Lung conditions are being “overlooked” in the NHS and as a result the UK has some of the highest lung death rates in Europe, according to a new report.
Conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma are “drastically overlooked”, Asthma and Lung UK said.
The charity said that cardiovascular (heart) disease health has seen “significant improvements” in recent years while “lung health has stood still”.
It said that if lung health improvements had matched those seen in heart disease then there would be 8,000 fewer deaths each year from lung conditions.
“Because of this lack of action, more people are now dying from a lung condition in the UK than anywhere else in Europe,” the authors wrote.
The charity said that in many areas of England a basic lung function test – spirometry – “has been unavailable for years”.
It also said that another test – a FeNO test which measures the amount of nitic oxide in someone’s breath, which can signal inflamed airways – is “not widely used”, despite being recommended by health leaders.
The charity warned that this means that many people with lung conditions are either not being diagnosed or are misdiagnosed.
There needs to be greater focus & priority on tackling them. Keeping people well & out of hospital is good for health and saves the NHS money.
Read the report & join with us to tell politicians that people with lung conditions won’t be ignored.https://t.co/9gRCI769Lx
— Sarah Woolnough (@swoolnough) September 26, 2023
“Imagine being diagnosed with high blood pressure without anyone actually measuring it,” the authors wrote.
“That’s what happens for many with lung conditions with thousands of people across England missing out on key diagnostic tests because of local disagreements about funding and commissioning.”
The charity said that simple tests which can help diagnose asthma and COPD are not widely available to GPs.
But if they were, they could save money for the NHS and potentially prevent misdiagnosis or underdiagnosis of lung conditions.
The charity has made a series of recommendations including proper funding for diagnostic tests, improving treatment access and giving people with lung conditions more support to stay well and stay out of hospital.
Dr Andrew Whittamore, clinical lead at Asthma and Lung UK and a practising GP, said: “In many areas of the country basic lung function tests are not easy to access.
“This means many healthcare professionals can’t get a full picture of what might be causing someone to cough, wheeze, have frequent chest infections or shortness of breath.
“The ripple effect of this lack of testing means that patients are more likely to have a delay in their diagnosis or get an incorrect diagnosis, leading to them being more seriously unwell.”
Charity chief executive Sarah Woolnough added: “Lung conditions remain the third biggest killer in the UK and cost the NHS billions of pounds every single year, but it is those who are living with lung conditions who are currently paying the highest price.
“The abysmal lack of testing and patchy basic care is causing avoidable harm to people with lung conditions and the NHS. Our report shows the urgent need for the government to take immediate action so that people with lung conditions get an accurate and timely diagnosis.”
NHS England has been approached for comment.