A charity has called for more action to improve lung health, as it found the UK has the worst death rate for lung conditions in western Europe.
Half a million people died from lung conditions, including asthma and complications arising from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia, between 2011 and 2018, according to analysis by Asthma + Lung UK.
Turkey was the only European country to have a higher death rate for lung conditions than the UK, and people in the UK are three times more likely to die from lung disease than in Finland, which has the lowest lung disease death rates in Europe.
Asthma + Lung UK has said that lung conditions need to be treated as seriously as other major illnesses, including heart disease and cancer. Lung disease is the third biggest killer in the UK and more than 12 million people in the UK will get a lung condition in their lifetime.
Many of the problems with early diagnosis, treatment and care have been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has placed significant strain on respiratory services. However, the charity said that many people with asthma and COPD did not receive sufficient care even before Covid-19 hit.
Last year the Taskforce for Lung Health warned there was not enough capacity in the NHS to see and support all of the patients who need care, which could lead to worsening symptoms and increased deaths.
Asthma + Lung UK particularly wants to see more research that would lead to the creation of more diagnostic tests and treatments, as well as new technology such as AI and apps that could help people better manage their condition and stay out of hospital.
It said the government should triple investment in lung research and innovation over the next five years to at least £150m each year, as well as commit to much bolder clean air legal targets to protect lung health.
Chief executive Sarah Woolnough said: “The state of lung health in the UK is shameful, with more than 100,000 people dying every year from lung conditions, the numbers of hospital admissions increasing, and air pollution causing people to develop lung conditions or making existing ones worse. It is a national scandal that people are more likely to die from a lung condition in the UK than almost anywhere in Europe.
“For far too long lung conditions have been treated like the poor relation compared to other major illnesses like cancer and heart disease, with only 2% of publicly funded research spent on understanding them and finding treatments, and negative attitudes preventing people getting early diagnoses, treatment and care. We need urgent action now.
“The pandemic has brought it to people’s attention that lung conditions can and do kill and how terrifying it can be to struggle with breathlessness.”
Katy Brown had to give up her job after she was diagnosed with COPD in February 2021. She said: “I was told my diagnosis over the phone, which was utterly devastating, and I found it hard to get the information, treatment and support I needed. Even now, over a year after my diagnosis, I’m still waiting for a test that will show how bad my condition is and further treatment.
“There is a lack of awareness about how serious lung conditions are and how terrifying it is to struggle to breathe. It’s like having an elephant sitting on your chest. If I’d been diagnosed with another serious condition like a heart problem, I believe my treatment and the way I was dealt with would have been completely different.”