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The Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation uses the publication of a new report to call for more action on the dangers of winter to people with acute respiratory conditions:
Winter pressures in hospitals are not a new phenomenon.
Every winter GP surgeries and hospitals see an influx from people with respiratory conditions. But if we know lung disease is at the heart of our winter pressures, surely we should be doing a lot more about it?
Many people have a winter image of A&E departments being full of fractures and sprained ankles from icy conditions. In fact, orthopaedic admissions do not change much over the year. By contrast, respiratory admissions see an enormous spike over the winter, with 80% more patients being admitted in December, January and February than in the warmer months of March, April and May. This trend is virtually unique among major disease areas.
Around 62% more people died from a respiratory condition in the winter of 2016-17 compared with the non-winter months. And while respiratory infections are common, with older people and young children particularly at risk, people living with a long term condition like asthma or COPD are more likely to have a flare up in winter.
All this puts increased pressure on our health services and, in particular, our A&Es. While it’s well documented that admissions rise in the winter, health professionals, think tanks and providers have all raised serious concerns about how the NHS will cope this year.
The impact of lung disease on Emergency Departments during winter is laid out in a new report from the British Lung Foundation, Out in the Cold: lung disease, the hidden driver of winter pressures.
Working with respiratory clinicians, we have made a number of recommendations to improve patient care and reduce the burden on A&Es.
First, we need to step up our prevention strategy. This means increasing the flu jab rate and ensuring patients with chronic conditions get the support they need to manage their illness all year round. We need to ensure that specialist respiratory care and advice is available in primary care to ensure that people who do not need to go to hospital can get the help they need elsewhere.
However good our prevention and diversion plans are, there will still be an increase in patients becoming seriously ill with lung conditions in the winter. This is predictable and hospitals should be prepared to respond. One way to do this is to re-allocate beds, for example from elective surgery wards, to take extra respiratory patients. And, we need to ensure discharge and community support is there to get people home again safely.
The annual winter crisis in respiratory care highlights that we need a strategy. That’s why the British Lung Foundation has established the Taskforce for Lung Health to develop a new five year plan for respiratory services.