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Wednesday, 21 November, 2001, 00:38 GMT
Doctors warn of lung disease 'epidemic'
Patient being tested for lung diseases
Lung diseases kill one in four patients
Doctors have warned the government to take urgent action to tackle what they have described as a lung disease "epidemic" in the UK.

UK lung disease deaths per year
Total lung disease deaths 153,168
Pneumonia and flu 66,581
Lung cancer 35,879
A report for the British Thoracic Society (BTS), published Wednesday, reveals that lung diseases, which include conditions ranging from asthma to lung cancer, are now the biggest killers in the UK, accounting for one in four deaths.

But the report suggests that ministers are discriminating against patients who have respiratory problems and are failing to give lung diseases the priority they need.

The authors also suggest that death rates, which are among the highest in Europe, will continue to rise unless ministers make more money available and employ more doctors to treat patients with lung disease.

These statistics prove in black and white that this government is discriminating by disease area in the NHS

Prof Duncan Geddes, President British Thoracic Society
According to the report, entitled The Burden of Lung Disease, respiratory conditions are now the most common long-term illness among children. They are also responsible for most emergency hospital admissions in the UK.

It is also the most common reason patients give for visiting their GP and is estimated to cost the NHS 2.5bn each year - more than any other disease.

However, the BTS has dismissed current funding as 'hugely inadequate' and has said the number of doctors needs to be trebled and brought into line with European levels if the 'epidemic' is to be tackled.

Doctors also want a new National Service Framework to set UK-wide standards for the treatment of patients with respiratory conditions and eliminate variations in care.


Countries with a worse record than the UK
Professor Duncan Geddes, president of the BTS, accused the government of discriminating against patients with lung diseases.

"With investment and improvements already pledged for heart disease and cancer, these statistics prove in black and white that this government is discriminating by disease area in the NHS.

"The lack of a national programme of treatment and care for respiratory disease, together with a severe shortage of chest specialists, nurses and physiotherapists, is causing patients with a lung disease to suffer unnecessarily."

BTS chairman Dr Martyn Partridge said the findings were surprising and appalling.

He added: "We don't know why death rates are so high but it cannot be a coincidence that we have one third of the number of lung specialists compared to Europe.

"In this country, an acceptance of lung disease has gone on too long. Look at the figures in France, Germany, Italy. That's what really hurts."

A spokeswoman for the British Lung Foundation welcomed the report and called on the government to take action.

Death rates from lung disease per 100,000
UK 105
Austria 30
Italy 34
Switzerland 35
"This report reveals what the British Lung Foundation has known for some time, that people with respiratory conditions and lung diseases are getting a poor deal in terms of the availability of specialist help.

"The government needs to address the shortage in respiratory specialists as a matter of urgency," she told BBC News Online.

Professor Sir Charles George, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said heart disease remained the single biggest killer among 35 to 74 year olds.

"It is vital that this message is not diluted."

He added: "There is no doubt about the importance of lung disease as a cause of death and suffering. However, smoking is a common link between heart disease, many cancers and chest disease such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema."

Government response

In the NHS there is always a danger of trying to solve every problem at once, and not solving any problem at all

Alan Milburn
Health Secretary Alan Milburn told the BBC said he would be happy to meet with the BTS to discuss their concerns. But he said the government's top priorities were heart disease and cancer.

But he said: "In the NHS there is always a danger of trying to solve every problem at once, and not solving any problem at all.

"We have got to keep focused on the things that are the most serious. Within lung disease the biggest killer is lung cancer."

Mr Milburn said the number of cases of lung cancer, and the number of deaths from the disease was now falling. The government had specific plans in place, including increasing the number of consultants, to tackle the disease.

The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"Chronic lung conditions are increasing"
UK Health Secretary Alan Milburn
"There are lots of problems in the NHS"
Dr Martyn Partridge, British Thoracic Society
"These are worrying figures when you compare us with the rest of Europe"
See also:

21 Nov 01 | Health
'My fight against emphysema'
29 Jul 00 | Health
Lung disease gene discovered
22 Aug 00 | Health
'More women suffer lung disease'
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