We need a new respiratory taskforce – Dr Penny Woods

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As a new report from Asthma UK claims patients are missing out on basic care, the Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation explains what can be done to improve the care and treatment for people with respiratory health conditions: 

A shocking 82% of people with asthma don’t feel their condition is under control and two thirds are not receiving the basic care and treatment they are entitled to, according to a new report published yesterday by Asthma UK.

The report paints a worrying picture for people living with asthma. It shows that asthma is seriously impacting on quality of life and people’s ability to work or study. A third of people find their symptoms stop them doing the things they want in their spare time and a quarter have missed at least a week of work, school or college in the last year.

This comes on the back of figures from last year showing 1,468 people died from asthma in a year, the highest number in a decade. Two thirds of these would have been preventable with better treatment and support.

For people working in respiratory health, these findings are not a surprise. Respiratory health is consistently under-prioritised, despite the fact that 1 in 5 of us have been diagnosed with a lung condition.

In fact, The British Lung Foundation’s Battle for Breath report found that the UK has the fourth highest mortality rate from lung disease in Europe. These numbers have not fallen in 10 years, in contrast to improvements over that time in cardiovascular outcomes and other health conditions.

We urgently need to address this situation to make sure outcomes improve and everyone with a lung condition gets the treatment, care and support they need.

That’s why we are calling on the government and NHS England to establish a new respiratory taskforce to develop a five year strategy. Taskforces for both cancer and mental health are already set to transform patient outcomes in these two areas. Lung patients deserve the same.

A new taskforce could bring together medical professionals, charities and patients to consider how to improve the quality of patient care and reduce mortality rates. It could look at prevention as well as treatment, joining up with smoking cessation and air pollution work to tackle the big causes of lung disease.

It would review all the economic evidence on lung disease and establish ways to spend tight NHS resources more effectively. Lung disease accounts for 6.1 million hospital bed days each year – an unnecessary and unsustainable burden for the NHS.

This is about social justice. People in the most deprived groups are twice as likely to have a lung condition compared with those who are most affluent. A taskforce would look at how to reduce this inequality.

Most importantly, a coordinated approach drawing on the key talents across respiratory care will, undoubtedly, find new and better ways to improve and extend quality of life for people living with a lung condition, like those featured in the Asthma UK report. We cannot wait any longer for this work to begin.


Image of Dr Penny Woods, Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation (BLF)Dr Penny Woods is Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation.

Penny qualified as a doctor in 1987 and has an MA from Cambridge University and MBA from INSEAD.

She has many years’ experience in the healthcare sector working as a management consultant for clients including governments, multi-national companies, NHS organisations and private healthcare providers. She spent seven years in a number of senior roles at BTG plc, and before joining the BLF she was chief executive of the Picker Institute Europe.

Penny is passionate about working on behalf of patients, from personal and family experience of COPD, asthma, obstructive sleep apnoea and motor neurone disease.

You can follow Penny on Twitter at @blfpenny.

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