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Northern Ireland manifesto: live better with it

We want people with lung conditions to live full and active lives and continue to do the things that are important to them and to their families.

Unfortunately, currently our healthcare system is set up to help when things go wrong, rather than to help people stay well. At an estimated cost of £250 million per year to the health budget just for treating lung conditions, there are significant sums to be saved by being proactive with healthcare. Whilst we look for cures for lung conditions, the evidence supporting self-management interventions is strong and they should be regarded as exemplar conditions to trial connected technologies to help people better self-manage their condition.

Education is key to improving understanding of lung conditions, helping deliver early diagnosis and good self-management. Having confident and informed people living with lung conditions at the centre of the decision making allows them to take ownership of their conditions, leading to reduced unplanned visits to GPs, visits to outpatient departments, hospital admissions and length of stays.

In Northern Ireland 53% of people are not receiving the basic care they need to manage their asthma well, contributing to over 2,000 emergency hospital admissions annually and over 30 asthma-related deaths. People who can self-manage and have an asthma action plan are better equipped to manage their symptoms and less likely to be admitted to hospital for their asthma.

Thousands of people across Northern Ireland have been affected by COVID-19 and a number of these will be impacted by Long COVID, requiring ongoing support. Northern Ireland needs long-term funding and staffing-level commitments for Long-COVID assessment centres, providing the respiratory, rehabilitation, physiotherapy, and emotional support for those living with this group of conditions.

The most cost-effective treatment for lung conditions, such as COPD, is pulmonary rehabilitation (PR), a programme of exercise and education for people with a long-term lung condition. Sadly, even before the pandemic too few patients had access to PR and often had to wait until their condition worsened before they could benefit. PR had to stop at the start of the pandemic and has been slow to restart.

We are calling for services like PR to be delivered digitally more often, especially during flu season, when at-risk groups choose to socialise less and minimise contact. Providing funding for digital innovation can help those who self-isolate during these periods to stay active and well.

Asthma + Lung UK Northern Ireland is calling for:

  • Department of Health to establish the ‘Right to Rehab’ so everyone living with a lung condition can access appropriate rehabilitation depending on their needs
  • The elimination of referral and criteria-based routes to rehabilitation moving towards “request for assistance” models that ensure no one is excluded from accessing support.
  • Every person living with asthma to have a written asthma action plan, annual review, and inhaler technique check.
  • Five Fundamentals of COPD Care, as recommended by NICE, to be delivered to every person in Northern Ireland living with COPD.
  • Digital self-management tools to be rolled out across Northern Ireland.
  • People living with terminal lung conditions to get the palliative care support they need.

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