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Funding Boost Call to Tackle UK's 'Shameful' Lung Disease Record

A lack of investment in research has contributed to the UK having the worst lung disease mortality record in western Europe, according to an analysis.

Despite lung disease being the UK's third biggest killer, it attracted only a 2% share of publicly funded research, Asthma + Lung UK said. The charity report called for funding on respiratory research to be tripled to bring spending into line with comparable major diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

The charity report, Fighting for Breath, found that the numbers of people admitted to hospital for lung conditions in England and Wales doubled in the last 20 years, and that over a 7-year period, half a million people in the UK had died from lung conditions, including asthma, COPD, and pneumonia.

In Europe as a whole, only Turkey had a higher mortality rate from lung disease than the UK, while people in the UK were three times more likely to die from lung disease than in Finland, which had the lowest death rate.

'A National Scandal'

Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of Asthma + 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."

In what it calls a "battle plan", the report identifies changes needed to reduce mortality and ill-health caused by lung conditions by 20% by 2027.

Central to the strategy is reducing exposure to tobacco smoke, air pollution, infection, mould, and hazards in the workplace.

Health Inequalities

"While lung health problems can affect anyone, there is an unfair burden with the poorest in our society being hit the hardest," according to the report, which says that the poorest one-fifth of people in the UK make up 85% of those living in areas with the highest levels of air pollution.

Sir Michael Marmot, author of the 2010 Marmot Review that identified deprivation with higher rates of mortality, said: "Inequalities have long been a striking feature of lung diseases in the UK. Of the many indignities associated with being poor, or relatively so, having increased risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or dying of lung cancer or pneumonia are among the worst."

Sir Michael, who is professor of epidemiology and public health at University College London, and joint president of Asthma + Lung UK, added: "The tragedy of it is that we know quite a bit about what to do to prevent this needless suffering."

Spending on Research and Treatment

The charity report calls for spending on lung research and innovation to be boosted to at least £150 million each year over the next 5 years, coupled with a commitment to legally-enforceable clean air targets.

It argues that an increase in spending would represent a good investment, with lung disease treatment costing the NHS more than £9 billion each year.

"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," Sarah Woolnough said.

Asthma + Lung UK was formed by a merger in 2020 of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation.

Lead Image Credit: Douglas P Sacha / Getty Images