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Health: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Volume 722: debated on Wednesday 17 November 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they will implement the National Clinical Strategy for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

My Lords, the reforms set out in Equity and excellence: Liberating the NHS will ensure that the NHS focuses on improving outcomes for patients. As a result, we are looking at the role and nature of clinical strategies within the reformed NHS to ensure that they reflect this focus.

Today is World COPD Day. I can assure the House that we are committed to improving outcomes for those who suffer from COPD and from asthma. We will make further announcements shortly.

I join the Minister in welcoming World COPD Day, which draws attention to this incurable, degenerative lung condition. However, I am disappointed that he has not thought fit to use today to adopt the COPD strategy, which was left up and ready, as it were, when the previous Government left office. Apart from anything else, I wonder whether he is aware that the British Lung Foundation’s research shows that up to 80 per cent of GPs cannot tell the difference between asthma and COPD. That is a very serious issue for prescribing. The adoption of the COPD strategy would bring systematic training and awareness-raising of this condition.

My Lords, as I indicated in my Answer, the reform programme that we have outlined is intended to ensure that all parts of the system work more effectively in improving health outcomes. That has to include COPD. We have to ensure that everything that we do fits into the proposed new architecture of the NHS. In the mean time, we will continue to work with key organisations and with clinical leads for COPD and asthma to make sure that change happens. I know that a great deal of activity is in hand across the NHS to improve outcomes for patients with COPD and asthma as a result of the good work undertaken so far.

Will the Minister give a pledge on World COPD Day to ensure that the compensation scheme for miners affected by COPD that was begun by the previous Administration will continue?

My Lords, I will be happy to write to the noble Baroness on that matter, as I have not been briefed on it.

My Lords, both my brothers and my father died after years of breathlessness, which is an appalling condition. Can the Minister say why pulmonary rehabilitation courses are being closed around the country, despite being recommended by the NICE guidelines?

My Lords, I am concerned to hear the noble Baroness’s comments because I know that an enormous amount of good work is going on around the country. There are programmes to encourage clinical leadership, improvement projects designed to integrate services, a commissioning toolkit, benchmarking data on outcomes and tools to aid local campaigns. If the services designed to help COPD patients are being diluted in any way, I should be very concerned about that and interested to hear the details.

My Lords, does the Minister recall the recent paper from the Royal College of Psychiatrists that highlights that mental disorder is behind a large number of people taking up smoking and drinking? Will he consider whether this is not an argument for further investment in child and adolescent mental health services, so that children and young people suffering from anxiety and depression receive the help that they need at an early stage and do not reach for alcohol, tobacco and other substances that can have these awful outcomes in later life?

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl on linking mental health with COPD in that neat way. He is absolutely right that smoking is an activity that puts one at high risk of COPD and that smoking is closely associated with poor mental health. Fifty per cent of the tobacco smoked in this country is smoked by those with mental health problems. We are determined to continue efforts to discourage smoking in the general population. We are also keen to raise awareness of good lung health generally, which brings us back to the Question on the Order Paper. To a large extent, such efforts will fall to the new public health service in future.

Will the Minister say whether the Government have noted the conclusions of the Environmental Audit Committee in the other place, which reported that poor air quality aggravates and is a contributory factor to COPD? Has the Department of Health been in discussion with the Department for Transport about scaling back pollution as part of the forthcoming paper that the noble Lord mentioned?

My noble friend is right to raise the issue of air quality, which is of concern to my department. She is also right that we are working with colleagues across government to look at air quality—particularly in London but also in other cities—which has such a damaging effect on the health of a number of people.

My Lords, is not the network of breathe easy clubs, which is widely extended across this country, a very good example of the involvement of the statutory and NHS services with volunteers and patient response? Could not that reasonably be said to be a very good precursor to the big society?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. We have been working with the breathe easy groups and the British Lung Foundation to ensure that the good work that they are doing, along with that of the newly appointed strategic health authority respiratory leads, will improve outcomes for those with COPD and asthma. I agree with him fully that this is a very good example of the big society in action.

My Lords, patients with COPD are classically those who do not get access to palliative care services at the end of life. Will the Minister tell us what the Government will do to improve the access to palliative care of patients with COPD and other chronic conditions at the end of life?

My Lords, the noble Baroness will know that an enormous amount of work is going on with palliative care services, and a great deal of money is being directed towards them. I share her concern that hospices tend to focus above all on patients with cancer, to the detriment of those with other conditions. This is an area that we are looking at very closely.