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Respiratory Health Q2 2023

How we can help people with lung conditions breathe more easily

iStock / Getty Images Plus / gorodenkoff

Dr Paul Walker

Chair, British Thoracic Society

One in five people in the UK will need treatment for a lung condition in their lifetime. Lung disease varies from asthma, one of the most prevalent medical conditions, to lung cancer, the biggest cancer killer.

Lung disease is associated consistently with breathlessness, a frightening and debilitating symptom, and is strongly linked to health inequality and deprivation, meaning the most deprived and vulnerable communities are most affected.

Healthcare for people with lung conditions in the UK

The British Thoracic Society (BTS) is an organisation of respiratory professionals who, throughout the four UK nations, are committed to improving the lives of people with lung disease. For years, respiratory specialists have published groundbreaking research and been at the forefront of innovation and improvement.

Lack of access to respiratory diagnostic tests is a key issue which prevents people from receiving an accurate, early diagnosis while the current extreme and intense pressure on primary care limits access further.

Respiratory specialists are already under
pressure to deliver new services.

Nationwide access to respiratory specialists

If a person with a lung condition is treated by a respiratory specialist, they are more likely to have the correct diagnosis, receive the right treatment and experience fewer symptoms. They are also less likely to need hospital admission.

To deliver this, we need to train people to fill vacant posts and then grow the respiratory workforce. Respiratory teams are multidisciplinary and include doctors (consultants and specialty trainees), nurses, allied health professionals and healthcare scientists. There are shortages in all these professions.

Furthermore, respiratory specialists are already under pressure to deliver new services. They increasingly work in integrated care teams to deliver ‘hospital at home’ care and support primary care. They are setting up and working in new virtual wards to enhance acute respiratory care at home.

Respiratory professionals are also managing the extended workload of the new Targeted Lung Health Checks, which screen high-risk people for early lung disease. All these initiatives will lead to better lung care. However, they have to be properly resourced, or they risk staff burning out and leaving the NHS.

Addressing the workforce shortage

In our 2022 Report, A Respiratory Workforce for the Future, BTS focuses on respiratory workforce shortage as our main challenge, and we work with organisations like Asthma + Lung UK and the Primary Care Respiratory Society to highlight this. Everyone has the right to live a normal life, free from the debilitating effects of lung disease. The only way to ensure this is to provide high-quality respiratory care underpinned by a planned and sustainable specialist workforce.

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