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Respiratory Health Q2 2022

Action is needed to improve outcomes for those living with COPD

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Irina_Strelnikova

Kerry Mills

Advanced Respiratory Nurse Practitioner – Primary Care, Co Clinical Director, Hereford Medical Group PCN and COPD Lead, ARNS

It is estimated that 2 million people are currently living with undiagnosed COPD in the UK. It is also the fifth leading cause of death in the UK and accounts for 30,000 deaths every year.

COPD is a chronic lung condition that can cause symptoms of cough, sputum, breathlessness and leads to reduced mobility. Unfortunately, COPD can remain undiagnosed for many years.  

Early diagnosis is crucial  

Getting a diagnosis as early as possible is essential, as this will have a direct impact on how the disease progresses and future health. It is important that we encourage people experiencing respiratory symptoms to seek advice from healthcare services and not to assume that the cardinal symptoms are to be expected, due to possible history of smoking, pollution exposure or aging.  

Health care professionals must remain vigilant and suspect COPD as a possible cause for respiratory symptoms and ask about associated risk factors for COPD. The National Institute Clinical Excellence (2019) and Global Initiative for Chronic Disease (2021) guidelines provide clarification.  

It is important that we encourage people experiencing respiratory symptoms to seek advice from healthcare services.

Increased investment needed  

COPD remains a poor relation to other conditions in reference to national recognition and prioritisation and that the need for early diagnosis and greater investment into prevention and management is crucial (NHS RightCare Pathway COPD).   

The National COPD Policy Action Plan was launched to coincide with World COPD Day in November 21. The document sets out specific actions to improve outcomes for people living with COPD in the UK, developed by specialists and leaders in COPD.  

There are three key ambitions for change:  

1: Accelerated early and accurate diagnosis 

2: Reduce clinical inertia and focus on prevention 

3: Minimise health inequality and variation in care 

The document invites health care professionals to unite to impact policy at national level by approaching Integrated Care Boards to impact policy at local level and work with colleagues to implement change at grass roots level. This approach aligns with the NHS Long Term Plan and is supported by Respiratory Taskforce groups. 

Tips for good management 

Once the patient has a diagnosis of COPD, it is important to discuss how to manage the condition and take proactive steps to prevent worsening symptoms. Here are some tips:  

  • Take medication as it has been prescribed 
  • Get inhaler technique checked by health care professional 
  • Keep vaccinations up to date 
  • Understanding what a good COPD day looks like, to enable recognition of a change in symptoms 
  • Following agreed action plan 
  • Eat well balanced and healthy meals 
  • Stay active  
  • Seek help to stop smoking if appropriate 
  • Seek advice if worried or concerned about respiratory symptoms 

Recommended links

Overview | Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in over 16s: diagnosis and management | Guidance | NICE 

Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease – Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease – GOLD ( 

Asthma + Lung UK ( 

National-COPD-Policy-Action-Plan.pdf ( 


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