A review of 2021 by the chair of the Taskforce for Lung Health

Dr Alison Cook, Chair of the Taskforce for Lung Health talks about our work in 2021.

We established the Taskforce for Lung Health in 2018 to develop a five year plan to improve the nation’s lung health. We’re now at the midway point in looking for progress against our 43 recommendations. When we set out our ambitious vision, we couldn’t predict that we would be calling on policy makers and service providers to improve outcomes for people with a lung conditions when our whole country would need to adapt, at pace, to the extremely difficult and ever-changing requirements brought on by a new virulent and life threatening respiratory disease, COVID-19.

There’s no argument that COVID-19 has diverted healthcare staff, services provision, funding and energy away from day-to-day respiratory treatment and care. And we’re deeply concerned about how many people living with lung disease have been affected by this, having to self-manage their condition with reduced support, with a substantial and growing number of people now living with serious lung disease without having a diagnosis.

Yet, there is reason to feel cautiously optimistic about the progress we are making. Our alliance is stronger than ever; patient and carer representatives sit side-by-side with our professional healthcare members, equally contributing to how we shape and deliver our influencing work, and we are supporting and encouraging the NHS to develop policy and services with the same kind of broad expertise from patients and health care professionals alike. We intend to continue our focus on making sure that patient reported experiences of how treatment and care is being delivered are used as key measures of success for the delivery of the Long Term Plan. Yes, it is difficult to gather the data and monitor change, but as a Taskforce we are clear that it is essential that this happens.

We have used our united voice and combined influence to achieve some developments that have real potential to impact the lives of people with lung disease.

These include the improvement of diagnostic services for respiratory disease across the country with the imminent introduction of the first NHS pathway for breathlessness, that sets out what patients can expect, and when, from when they first present with their symptoms.  We have also seen investment in a new network of community diagnostic centres. Together, we expect these two developments will support thousands more people to receive a timely and accurate diagnosis.

We are pleased that NHS England have taken up our concerns regarding the over-prescribing of SABA inhalers. There is huge potential here to keep people in better health and avoid hospital admissions. There is also greater recognition of the role community pharmacists could play in supporting people to use their medicines effectively, for example in checking inhaler technique, which we hope will be supported to become standard practice.

There is increased understanding about the need for and the benefits from pulmonary rehabilitation, including for people who have had complications from COVID-19.  Services have been able to innovate and provide digital pulmonary rehabilitation classes, and funding has been allocated to support service development. However, there is still much more that needs to be done to ensure many more people are offered pulmonary rehabilitation and gain access to effective treatment.

We know we need to do even more to raise awareness of the importance of lung health and the value of getting an early and accurate diagnosis when symptoms first start to appear. But perhaps more importantly to encourage an understanding of what it is like to live with lung disease.  Taskforce ran our first public-facing campaign to improve awareness in Birmingham during August 2021. The reach we have had for our #BreatheinBrum campaign has exceeded our expectations, with great local involvement in our search to find Birmingham's favourite place to take a ‘breather’. These foundations will be used to help shape a roll-out next year of more awareness raising work.

Speaking of foundations and looking ahead to 2022, the priority must now be to push for progress to be made with regards to growing, training and supporting our respiratory workforce. There are no quick fixes, so change has to be accelerated now as it will take years recruit and train new specialist staff.

None of this progress or future work would be possible without our members. Thank you to you and to your organisations for your energy and commitment to collaboration in 2021. Together, we are stronger than ever, and we will make sure the second half of our five years yields more benefits for people with lung disease.


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3 December 2021