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Lung conditions kill more people in the UK than anywhere in Western Europe

Monday 28th February 2022

Asthma + Lung UK says the state of lung health in the UK is ‘shameful’ with more deaths than anywhere else in Europe apart from Turkey and hospitalisations for lung conditions doubling in England and Wales

The UK has the worst death rate for lung conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) than anywhere else in western Europe1, according to new analysis from Asthma + Lung UK – the UK’s leading charity supporting everyone with a lung condition, formerly known as Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation.

The charity’s analysis reveals that over a seven-year period, half a million people have died from lung conditions such as asthma attacks, COPD exacerbations and pneumonia, in the UK, according to the latest figures.2

Of all the countries in Europe, only Turkey had a higher death rate than the UK and people in the UK are three times more likely to die from lung disease than in Finland, which has the lowest lung disease death rates in Europe.

Asthma + Lung UK, has today launched its new strategy Fighting for Breath with a mission to transform the nation’s lung health and has revealed that the numbers of people admitted to hospital for lung conditions in England and Wales have doubled in the last 20 years.4

In the last two years, an additional 170,000 people have died from Covid-19,5 more than any other country in Europe and an estimated 1.3 million people in the UK are also suffering from Long Covid, with 37% suffering from shortness of breath.6

Asthma + Lung UK says that lung conditions need to be treated as seriously as other major illnesses including heart disease and cancer. More than 12 million people in the UK will get a lung condition during their lifetime7 and lung disease is the third biggest killer in the UK – but only 2% is spent on publicly funded research.8

The lack of research is hindering the creation of more effective diagnostic tests that would help people be diagnosed accurately and more quickly, new treatments which could reduce symptoms or even cure some lung diseases and new technology, such as AI and apps, that could help people better manage their condition and stay out of hospital.

NHS care is also failing many people with lung conditions, with the majority of people with asthma9 and COPD10 not receiving basic care from their GP, such as help using their inhaler properly and reviewing their medication. This was the case even before the pandemic placed huge additional strain on respiratory services. Over the past two years, many thousands of people have watched their health deteriorate while they wait for respiratory care, and diagnosis rates have plummeted.

Another likely contributor to high death rates is air pollution, which is linked to 36,00011 premature deaths each year, is a leading cause of new lung conditions and worsens existing ones.

Asthma + Lung UK says the government, research funders, the NHS and healthcare professionals must all join together to cut deaths and hospitalisations from lung conditions. This will not only save lives but will help tackle health inequalities.

Currently, people with lung conditions in the poorest neighbourhoods are seven times more likely to die of a lung condition than those in the richest areas.12 This could be down to the fact they are more likely to be more exposed to air pollution, poor-quality damp housing and cigarette smoke.

The charity says the government must triple investment in lung research and innovation over the next five years to at least £150 million each year and commit to much bolder clean air legal targets to protect all our lung health.

Asthma + Lung UK, which has made its own commitments to transform attitudes to lung health and provide services and support to help people with lung conditions, also wants to see change in the way UK health systems diagnose and care for people with lung disease, increase numbers of specialist NHS staff, and develop more accurate diagnostic tests.

Gabbiee Hornsey, 28, is a mum of two from Neath, South Wales. She lost her 19-year-old sister, Dominique to a fatal asthma attack in June 2017, leaving behind her five-month-old son, Kayden-James.  She says:

“Dominique had always struggled with her asthma and in the run up to her death she was hospitalised at least three times, but no one saw the red flags. No one checked that her medicine was working for her or if she was using her inhaler properly. I don’t think even she knew how serious it was – none of us really thought asthma could kill.

“But then one day my dad called to tell me Dominique had collapsed on the stairs with an asthma attack. Our grandmother tried to give her CPR and called an ambulance, but Dominique never regained consciousness and died in hospital. It was so sudden. Just half an hour earlier, I’d been chatting to her about our plans for a picnic and the next minute her life had been snatched away and she had left her baby boy without his mum.

“I wish Dominique’s asthma was taken seriously as she might still be here today. I’m determined to keep her memory alive for my nephew and to raise awareness to prevent other families going through what we have. People need to know that asthma is serious and there needs to be more research into asthma and other lung conditions so we can find life-saving treatments and one day a cure.”

Katy Brown, 64, a retired nursery nurse from Bristol, was diagnosed with COPD in February 2021, and has been shocked by the lack of medical support she has received, and the poor general awareness of her condition. She says:

“I spent two years struggling to breathe and with constant chest infections, before I finally got a diagnosis of COPD. I felt unwell all the time, couldn’t walk upstairs easily and had to give up my job. I knew what COPD was because my mum had it and was deteriorating, but hardly any of my friends knew what it was or that it was life-limiting.

“I was told my diagnosis over the phone, which was utterly devastating, and I found it hard to get the information, treatment and support I needed. Even now, over a year after my diagnosis, I’m still waiting for a test that will show how bad my condition is and further treatment. There is a lack of awareness about how serious lung conditions are and how terrifying it is to struggle to breathe. It’s like having an elephant sitting on your chest. If I’d been diagnosed with another serious condition like a heart problem, I believe my treatment and the way I was dealt with would have been completely different.

“Thankfully, I found great support from Asthma + Lung UK on their website and through their weekly support group. I want other people with lung conditions to know that support is out there but also for everyone to realise people with lung conditions need empathy as well as better access to treatments to help us live as best as we can.”

Sarah Woolnough, Chief Executive of Asthma + Lung UK formerly known as Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: 

“The state of lung health in the UK is shameful, with more than 100,000 people dying every year from lung conditions, the numbers of hospital admissions increasing, and air pollution causing people to develop lung conditions or making existing ones worse. It is a national scandal that people are more likely to die from a lung condition in the UK than almost anywhere in Europe.

“For far too long lung conditions have been treated like the poor relation compared to other major illnesses like cancer and heart disease, with only 2% of publicly funded research spent on understanding them and finding treatments, and negative attitudes preventing people getting early diagnoses, treatment and care. We need urgent action now.

“The pandemic has brought it to people’s attention that lung conditions can and do kill and how terrifying it can be to struggle with breathlessness. As the UK’s only charity fighting for everyone with a lung condition, we have an ambitious new strategy to fight for every breath, including providing our vital services such as our helpline, health advice and support groups.

“But we are also urging government to triple funding for respiratory research to identify new ways of diagnosing and treating people with lung conditions, tackle air pollution and ensure better diagnosis and care for everyone with a lung condition. We want everyone with a lung condition who needs our support to get in touch if they need our help – and to know that we are here for them, fighting for every breath.”

 

-ENDS- 

 

Notes to Editors

For more information, to speak to storytellers, or for interview requests, please contact the press team on 0207 786 4949 or mediaoffice@auk-blf.org.uk.

 

Asthma + Lung UK

Asthma + Lung UK is the only charity in the UK fighting for everyone with a lung condition, aiming for a world where everyone can breathe with healthy lungs. We fund research. We provide advice and support for the 12 million people who will get a lung condition during their lifetime. We campaign for clean air and we campaign for better NHS diagnosis and treatment. For further information visit asthmaandlung.org.uk

 

References  

  1. Eurostat data for 2011-2018, Causes of death – standardised death rate by region of residence. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/databrowser/view/HLTH_CD_ASDR2__custom_2053067/default/table?lang=en
  2. Eurostat data for 2012-2018. Causes of death – deaths by country of residence and occurrence, available at: https://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/show.do?dataset=hlth_cd_aro&lang=en
  3. Eurostat data for 2011-2018, Causes of death – standardised death rate by region of residence. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/databrowser/view/HLTH_CD_ASDR2__custom_2053067/default/table?lang=en
  4. Naser, A.Y., Mansour, M.M., Alanazi, A.F.R. et al. (2021) Hospital admission trends due to respiratory diseases in England and Wales between 1999 and 2019 https://bmcpulmmed.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12890-021-01736-8#Sec9
  5. https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/deaths
  6. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/bulletins/prevalenceofongoingsymptomsfollowingcoronaviruscovid19infectionintheuk/3february2022
  7. British Lung Foundation (2016) The battle for breath – the impact of lung disease in the UK. Available at: https://www.blf.org.uk/policy/the-battle-for-breath-2016
  8. UK Health Research Analysis (2020). Available at: https://hrcsonline.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/UK-Health-Research-Analysis-2018-for-web-v1-28Jan2020.pdf
  9. https://www.asthma.org.uk/support-us/campaigns/publications/survey/
  10. https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/copd/world-copd-day/failing-on-the-fundamentals-our-copd-report
  11. Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (2018) Associations of long-term average concentrations of nitrogen dioxide with mortality. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/734799/COMEAP_NO2_Report.pdf
  12. ONS (2021) Socioeconomic inequalities in avoidable mortality in England: 2019. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/socioeconomicinequalitiesinavoidablemortalityinengland/2019/pdf