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Experts call for end to ‘systemic neglect’ of lung disease

Deaths due to lung disease unchanged over past decade

Adrian O'Dowd

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Experts are urging the NHS and public health bodies to do more to tackle lung disease, deaths from which have remained unchanged over the past decade.

The British Lung Foundation (BLF) has called for an end to what it describes as “systemic neglect” of lung disease by public health bodies in its new report The Battle for Breath: the Impact of Lung Disease in the UK.

The report contains new data showing that:

  • lung disease kills around 115,000 people every year in the UK, and alongside heart disease and non-respiratory cancer, is one of the UK’s three biggest killers
  • one in five (12 million people) have had a lung disease diagnosis in their lifetime
  • the number of people dying from lung disease has hardly changed in a decade, while the number of deaths from heart disease fell by 26,000 between 2008-12
  • only three European countries (Denmark, Romania and Hungary) have higher lung disease mortality rates than the UK
  • lung disease results in more than 700,000 hospital admissions and 6 million hospital bed days a year

Although lung disease is one of the UK's “big three killers”, efforts by the NHS and public health bodies to tackle lung disease were falling behind efforts to tackle other disease areas, said the BLF.

The report and an accompanying website are the result of a three-year epidemiological study and provide the most comprehensive overview of lung disease in a decade, said the charity.

It includes data on mortality, incidence, prevalence, hospital admissions and bed usage across all major respiratory conditions, with international comparisons.

The report makes several recommendations such as the establishment of a taskforce for lung health (following recent taskforces for cancer and mental health) to produce a five-year strategy for tackling lung disease, and the creation of a NHS Clinical Network for lung disease to integrate care and reduce regional variation.

The BLF also called for a National Respiratory Intelligence Network to collect and use data to improve care, and for public funding for lung disease research to be put on a more equal footing with heart disease and cancer (which respectively receive twice as much and more than three times as much public funding as lung disease research).

Dr Penny Woods, BLF chief executive, said: “Our report shows that lung disease, alongside cancer and cardiovascular disease, is one of the biggest burdens on UK health services, and one of this country's big three killers.

“Yet, 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.

“The number of people dying of lung disease is still as high as it was a decade ago. 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.”

Professor Stephen Holgate, Royal College of Physician’s special adviser on air quality, said: “The RCP fully endorses the need for lung disease to have a higher profile with the public and health professions.”

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