Lung disease deaths highest in western Europe, charity warns in call for action

Asthma and Lung UK said half a million people died from lung disease in the UK in the seven years to 2018.

28 February 2022

Britain has the highest death rate for lung conditions in western Europe, a charity has warned.

Over a seven-year period to 2018, half a million people in the UK died from lung conditions such as asthma attacks, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia, according to the charity Asthma and Lung UK.

The charity, formerly known as Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said across Europe, only Turkey had a higher death rate than the UK.

It said lung diseases have for too long been treated like the “poor relation compared to other major illnesses like cancer and heart disease”.

British people are three times more likely to die from lung disease than people in Finland, which has the lowest lung disease death rate in the continent, Asthma and Lung UK said.

It said lung conditions are the third biggest cause of death in the UK but only 2% of publicly-funded research is spent on lung disease.

The charity has called for more funding to research diagnostic tools and treatments for lung disease, and it urged ministers to bring in tougher clean air targets.

It also called for improvements in the care of patients outside of hospital.

It said that even before the pandemic, significant numbers of lung patients were not receiving “basic care” from their GP services such as medicine checks and help using their inhalers.

Over the past two years, the charity said, many thousands of people have watched their health deteriorate while they wait for respiratory care, and diagnosis rates have fallen.

Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of Asthma and Lung UK, 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.

“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.”

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