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Deaths caused by lung disease have not decreased over past decade, shows UK study

BMJ 2016; 353 doi: (Published 31 May 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;353:i3044
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. London

The number of people dying from lung disease has barely changed in a decade, and rates of some lung conditions are far higher than previously thought, a comprehensive report from the British Lung Foundation has shown.1

The Battle for Breath, the Impact of Lung Disease in the UK has shown that lung disease kills 115 000 people each year. This figure has hardly changed over the past decade, whereas the number of deaths from heart disease reduced by 15% from 2008 to 2012. The United Kingdom has the fourth highest mortality rate from lung disease in Europe, with only Denmark, Hungary, and Romania having higher rates.

The report said that lung disease has been a major factor in health inequalities. Someone from the most deprived 20% of society was two and a half times more likely to have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and was nearly twice as likely to develop lung cancer as someone from the least deprived 20%.

The report was the result of a three year epidemiological study led by David Strachan, professor of epidemiology at St George’s, University of London. It said that over 40% more people were living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease than reported by the Department of Health. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis was more than twice as common as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence stated in its official guidance, and bronchiectasis was over four times more common than NHS figures suggested.

Lung disease places a huge burden on health services, the report said. It is responsible for over 700 000 hospital admissions and more than 6.1 million hospital bed days in the UK each year, with only heart disease accounting for more.

The report called for an end to the “systematic neglect” of lung disease by the NHS and other public health bodies. It recommended that the government should establish a task force for lung health to produce a five year strategy for tackling lung disease. It also called for an NHS Clinical Network for lung disease to integrate care and reduce regional variation. Such networks already exist for cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other diseases.

The report also called for a National Respiratory Intelligence Network to collect and use data to improve care. It called for public funding for lung disease research to be more equal with that of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

In a foreword to the report Michael Marmot, director of the Institute of Health Equity, wrote, “Overall, the burden that lung disease places on our nation’s health and health services is immense—on a par with non-respiratory cancer and heart disease. Yet the amount of resources and attention invested in tackling lung disease trails behind these other disease areas.”

Stephen Holgate, the Royal College of Physicians’ special adviser on air quality, commented, “The RCP fully endorses the need for lung disease to have a higher profile with the public and health professions. Many lung diseases are preventable and treatable, but for reasons that are still not understood, lung disease has never received the attention it deserves.”


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