Restoring care for patients with lung disease  

We know that lockdown had an enormous impact on the care of people with lung disease, with the NHS suspending many of its services in response to COVID-19. Adam from the Policy team looks at our latest report which outlines how the NHS can meet the needs of people with a lung condition, as we recover and learn to live with COVID-19. 

This past year has demonstrated more than ever the importance of our NHS. At some point in our lifetime, we will all need to use the NHS to help keep us living healthier lives for longer. The NHS is always here for us whenever we need it. 

This changed dramatically in March when the NHS suspended many of its services. Most of those resources were diverted towards responding to the COVID-19 outbreak, to prevent our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed. At the time, this was essential to make sure we could respond properly to the brand new pandemic. 

However, we know this had an enormous impact on the 1 in 5 people from across the UK with a lung condition. This included over a million people with a severe respiratory condition such as severe COPD, severe asthma or interstitial lung disease who were identified as needing to shield during the height of the pandemic.

What’s the problem? 

Our survey of over 8,000 patients with lung disease found that over a third of people had their care delayed or cancelled during lockdown. This could be a cancelled annual review, a delayed appointment to see a specialist, or not being referred for an essential test. Also, a quarter of people experienced worse symptoms as a result of care being delayed or because they avoided seeking treatment – due to worries about putting pressure on the NHS and fears around the spread of COVID-19.

Both the NHS and patients are learning to adapt to this new environment. But as we all recover from the first wave of COVID-19, the NHS must also be prepared for the winter pressures that are driven every year by a spike in respiratory admissions to hospital. Therefore, it’s essential the NHS remains open for people with lung conditions, and that people can access the care and support they need. 

This is particularly important at a time when our health service is under immense pressure as we approach winter with COVID-19 still present. In the face of limited resource, the NHS must be able to identify people most in need of care. This includes people at higher risk of having an asthma attack, COPD exacerbation or those who have been shielding. The NHS needs to make sure that everyone with a lung condition is equipped to stay well through the winter.  

Our latest report 

Our latest report, Recovery and Reset for Respiratory: Restoring and Improving Basic Care for Patients with Lung Disease, outlines how the NHS can meet the needs of people with a lung condition, now and as we recover from COVID-19.  

Patient communication  

We want to make sure everyone knows how they can get the care they need, and who to contact if they have new or worsening symptoms. People with lung disease need to be confident the NHS remains ‘open for business’ and reassured that health services are safe to use.  

Service delivery  

Everyone who is having a review of their lung condition should have the choice in how that is carried out, either over phone, video or face to face. 

Service redesign  

To overcome the backlog of care respiratory patients have missed during lockdown, we think the NHS should prioritise those most in need of care. This includes people at higher risk of having an asthma attack, COPD exacerbation or those who have been shielding. 

Innovation  

The NHS must continue delivering care around the way patients live. This should include supporting people to manage their lung condition at home. 

Next steps 

If you are experiencing new or worsening respiratory symptoms, it’s important that you still seek medical assistance to help manage your condition. 

We will be engaging with the NHS, government and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to make sure that they put people with lung disease at the heart of any plans to restore healthcare services post-COVID. 

Read the report here


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8 October 2020