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We need a new respiratory taskforce – Dr Penny Woods

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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14 comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    How many Clinical Commissioning Groups in England have no pulmonary rehabilitation commissioned ?

  2. peter says:

    Another worthy report – but what about some cardiopulmonary advice particularly with regard to exercise. i’m in my 70s and have exercised regularly in a COPD group. About a year ago I was diagnosed with an MI ( a silent one. How, when, where ? ). COPD exercise really begins when you start to get breathless but my GP advises me to stop exercising if I become breathless for Cardio reasons. I have enjoyed structured exercise in various forms for over 50 years but I don’t quite know how to proceed from here apart from continuing with Tai Chi.

  3. Chris Reid says:

    We had a brilliant Asthma and respiratory team in Royal Preston which has been run down, Great staff have left. We now have a run down service that serves nobody as well as it used to. But you are in a race to foolishly save money for the government who simply want to privatise the NHS. Sadly the compromises you are making will be paid for with other peoples lives. Ask yourself why you became Doctors.

  4. Richard says:

    Excellent report but what is actually happening now to make a task force a reality? Talking with many others who suffer it seems some GPs have very limited knowledge of COPD in general and tend to have a dismissive attitude toward, telling patients to inhale certain medicines and learn to live with it! A taksforce is an excellent idea but as a starter better support and advice from GP Surgeries would go a long way to helping individuals manage the disease and potentially reduce the number of hospitalisations.

    • Chris Reid says:

      We had all those services locally, now they have been cut to the bone. NHS England are the privatisers of the NHS.

  5. A Rhoden Lawrence says:

    Suffering with asthma since childhood is tough. I am not the weak and pathetic character portrayed in films who have breathing difficulties. But that stigma sticks. A task force is needed and people need to educatated as to how dangerous it is. It’s life threatening yet asthma suffers like myself who work have to buy life saving medication which I find ridiculous.
    I know of 3 people who have died from asthma attacks in the last 5 years one quite young at 15.
    Talking about it is great. We need action.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I have asthma and it’s controlled as can be. I sufferd since childhood.
    There is little or no support and why do we have to pay for medication we have to have to survive? I know of a lady who lost her daughter because her condition wasn’t taken seriously enough.
    The stigma around it needs to change. Movies portray asthma suffers as weak and pathetic geeks and nerds or obese.
    I Strive hard to get people to understand just how dangerous a condition it is.

  7. Anne Howes says:

    I have bronchiectasis, my gp doesn’t seem to listen to my problems with this at all, my hospital consultant has put my gp in charge of my condition, I constantly cough & bring up mucus which is very tiring & have to fight for antibiotics, I feel no more n cares.

  8. Andrew Booth says:

    I agree. I look after people with asthma, bronchiectasis, and cystic fibrosis. These conditions just do no receive the attention, funding, resources, and research that is needed. If you want a task force, count me in!

  9. Gareth H says:

    Over the last few years I have received lots of help from some very caring and professional support from the NHS especially the Nurses and Junior Doctors, however I feel while I have my consultant appointments It feels rushed like they don’t have the time to listen and talk through the issues. As im sure you all know asthma is not straight forward and I accept it’s complex. I suffer with hard to control brittle asthma and have mild attacks a couple times a week and a sever attack every other month so I understand I’m a hard case to work with but just feel I’m getting palmed off with one inhaler theory after another. I’d love to go through a day without my wife and young children waiting for the next bad attack. I’m lucky enough that I’m able to have my nebuliser at home and work with me enabling me to live my life, never be defeated! I work, coach a u13 football team and cycle to raise money for asthma uk when ever possible. Keep fighting everyone!

  10. Eileen Bangerter says:

    I do not have asthma but I have bronchietasis and over the past 18 months since they started building houses at the bottom of our garden my condition has definitely deteriorated. Of course I cannot prove this is the cause but I think it is an added factor. With my condition as I guess with people who have asthma air quality is very important. The government push for more houses and do not understand about the amount of pollutants that these sites cause. Perhaps they should monitor them more. We have seen the air full of dust when bricks are broken, wood sawn and tiles cut not to mention the amount of dust on a dry day as they drive through the mud. Unfortunately the men working on these sites very rarely wear a mask. They might be the future lung condition suffers if nothing is done. I found Dr Woods article very interesting.

  11. Melvyn Hopkins says:

    Totally agree. I have had asthma all my 64 years which has now graduated to COPD. I limp along with chest infection after chest infection with the nurse prescribing the same treatment. My condition is in a constant state of wheeze. I ask about developments in Asthma research and am told there is nothing on the horizon. I am now being treated for depression as a result. We need this task force ASAP.

    • Michael says:

      I feel like most of the Comments .Just live with Chest infection after chest infection .Wake up to 15 minutes of coughing each morning

      • Thank you all so much for taking the time to write. Every comment helps shape our work on what needs to be addressed by a Taskforce on respiratory health in order to improve NHS treatment and, more generally, quality of life. If you would like to be kept up to date on our work to make the Taskforce happen please contact the British Lung Foundation’s helpline on 03000 030 555 or email us on hello@blf.org.uk