Efforts by the NHS and other public health bodies to tackle lung disease are lagging well behind efforts in other disease areas, even though it is one of UK’s “big three” killers, according to a report.
Nursing organisations responded by highlighting the vital role of specialist nurses in the treatment and management of lung disease, and called for investment to ensure better access.
“This report is yet another wake-up call for politicians and policy makers”
The report – The Battle for Breath: the Impact of Lung Disease in the UK – provides the most comprehensive overview of lung disease in a decade, according to the British Lung Foundation.
It is the result of a three-year epidemiological study and includes data on mortality, incidence, prevalence, hospital admissions and bed usage across all major respiratory conditions.
The report noted that the number of people dying from lung disease has barely changed in a decade; by comparison, the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease fell by 26,000 between 2008-12 alone.
In addition, it highlighted that three of the UK’s top six killer diseases are lung conditions – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia and lung cancer.
However, it said only three European countries – Denmark, Romania and Hungary – have higher lung disease mortality rates than the UK.
“Specialist nurses can make a huge difference to people with respiratory problems”
Meanwhile, lung disease results in over 700,000 UK hospital admissions and six million hospital bed days a year – only cardiovascular disease counts for more.
Several lung conditions – COPD, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and bronchiectasis – are far more common than official figures suggest and lung disease is a major factor in health inequalities.
The charity report called for improvements in lung disease prevention and screening, including incorporating respiratory elements into the NHS Health Check.
The report also called for the establishment of a Taskforce for Lung Health – in line with those for cancer and mental health – that should produce a five-year strategy for tackling lung disease.
In addition, it recommended the establishing of an NHS clinical network for lung disease to integrate care and reduce regional variation and a national respiratory intelligence network to collect and use data to improve care.
Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: “A systemic neglect of lung disease, from NHS structures to screening, data collection and research funding, means people affected are being left behind by UK healthcare institutions.
Charity calls for end to ‘systemic neglect’ of lung disease
“Without a clear strategy for tackling lung disease, I fear that we will be sat here in 10 years’ time regretting yet another decade without sufficient progress,” she said.
“Recent government measures – particularly efforts to tackle smoking – will have a positive impact on rates of lung disease, as they will in other disease areas,” she said. “However, it is a common misconception that lung disease is just a smokers’ condition.”
The Association of Respiratory Nurse Specialists and Royal College of Nursing both welcomed the report.
Wendy Preston, vice chair of the ARNS, said: “It is important that respiratory patients have access to expert help such as that provided by respiratory specialist nurses in a timely and equitable manner.
“All healthcare practitioners need to have respiratory knowledge including smoking cessation to enable identification of patients with respiratory disease and respiratory specialist nurses provide much of this education as part of their role,” she said.
Amanda Cheesley, professional lead for long-term conditions and end of life care at the RCN, said the report represented a “really important reminder of the immense toll” of lung diseases.
“Specialist nurses can make a huge difference to people with respiratory problems, helping people to live lives as fully as possible while remaining well and out of hospital,” she said.
“But they have often been seen as a target for cutbacks, which is a completely false economy as people can end up sicker and in need of more hospital admissions,” she noted.
Ms Cheesley added: “A focus on preventing these conditions, along with investment in specialist care to keep people as well and independent as possible, is now urgent.”
Dr Lisa Davies, chair of the British Thoracic Society’s executive committee, said: “This report is yet another wake-up call for politicians and policy makers to ‘get a grip’ of the problem and prioritise plans and investment to improve the nation’s lung health.”
- More statistics, analysis and comparison is available on the foundation’s Lung disease in the UK website.