Associate feature: Lung disease needs a preventative approach

Written by Joseph Carter, head of the BLF in Scotland on 12 September 2018 in Feature

Joseph Carter, head of the British Lung Foundation (BLF) Scotland, argues for urgent action to tackle lung disease in Scotland

Specialist lung nurse - BLF

Imagine the feeling of gasping for breath. Being cut off from the world. The panic and sense of hopelessness that accompanies the lack of control over your own body.

Simple everyday tasks, like popping out to the shops or making a cup of tea, feel like climbing Ben Nevis. For the thousands of people across Scotland who are diagnosed with a lung condition every year, this is a reality that they must contend with day after day.  

The British Lung Foundation’s report “The Battle for Breath” lays bare the inequalities in the spread of lung disease across Scotland. 

Prevalence rates of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) are highest in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK. If you live in Glasgow, you are twice as likely to die from a lung condition than if you live elsewhere in Scotland.

If you live in a deprived area, you are two and a half times more likely to develop COPD than if you live in a more affluent area. With lung cancer and chronic respiratory diseases responsible for 13 per cent of all deaths in Scotland last year between them, failing to tackle the underlying causes of lung disease will create a public health crisis for generations to come.    

The economic burden of lung disease on NHS Scotland is expected to rise over the coming years, with estimates suggesting that the cost of treating COPD alone will increase from £159m a year to £207m a year by 2030

At a time when budgets are stretched at all levels of government, clear strategic thinking is required to diagnose lung conditions at an earlier stage, paving the way for earlier intervention and treatment that reduces the risk of repeated hospital admission during exacerbations. 

By taking a preventative approach, we can reduce the costs faced by the frontline of the NHS and help everyone breathe easier over the coming years. In short, we need to see a dedicated strategy for lung health, as a starting point for improving respiratory care services across Scotland.

It is welcome that the Scottish Government has previously recognised the impact of lung disease on communities across the country and have promised to publish a dedicated respiratory improvement strategy. 

However, with a new Cabinet Secretary in post, we worry about the potential for the focus on the plan to slip, with little direct mention made of respiratory health in the Programme for Government. 

The British Lung Foundation have offered to work with the Scottish Government, healthcare professionals and other third sector organisations to help make this strategy a reality, so that we can ensure that services are put in place to improve lung health for all. If we tackle this issue collaboratively now, then we can look forward to prize of a society where everyone can breathe clean air with healthy lungs.

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