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Lung Health

Volume 798: debated on Monday 1 July 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to implement the recommendations of the Taskforce for Lung Health’s five year plan for improving lung health in England.

My Lords, the NHS has worked closely with the Taskforce for Lung Health and the British Lung Foundation to develop a national programme for respiratory and cardiovascular disease. This will improve lung health by piloting a lung health check programme, expanding quality-assured spirometry, undertaking pharmacy medicine reviews in primary care networks and improving self-management support. In addition, access to smoking cessation interventions will be increased and a national workforce group will be established. Finally, the Government have committed to improving choice and ending variation in end-of-life care services.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that response. She will be aware that lung disease is often underestimated as a problem; one in five of us is likely to be affected in our lifetime and priority has not really been given to it over the past few decades. Given that outcomes have hardly improved either, will she look again at the response and commit the Government to implementing the task force report in full?

I thank the noble Lord for that question. He is absolutely right that respiratory illness can be extremely serious. The UK has a higher rate of respiratory deaths than any other country in the OECD; this is a clinical priority for the NHS and the Government are committed to driving it forward. We are working with the British Lung Foundation and the NHS to deliver the co-designed lung foundation’s plan and I am happy to give him that commitment now.

My Lords, the report highlights the need for prevention, including among children and young people. Will the Government look at the funding of health visitors, who can speak to mothers about smoking, and recognise that a quarter of health visitor numbers have been cut because of their dependence on local authority funding? Will they also look at school funding to ensure that all schools can make the maximum effort to protect schoolchildren from air pollution?

The noble Earl is absolutely right. Prevention is a core part of the plan and as well as smoking, the clean air strategy and flu vaccinations, health visitors are a crucial part of it, and will be looked at as part of the forthcoming prevention Green Paper.

My Lords, I declare my interest as in the register. Does my noble friend agree that air quality is vital for lung health and will she comment on the distressing fact that lung diseases are strongly correlated with poverty, and that air quality is worst in poor areas?

My noble friend is right that poor air quality is one of the largest environmental risks to public health in the UK. That is exactly why we brought forward the air quality strategy, which has been identified by the WHO as an example for the rest of the world to follow. But he is right that it will not work if we do not also tackle variation across the country. That is exactly what we intend to do and why we will also look at air pollution as part of the Green Paper, which is due imminently.

My Lords, 6.1 million people in this country still smoke. The NHS long-term plan is good at encouraging further measures to reduce the prevalence of smoking. At the same time, 50% of local authorities have had to reduce funding for smoking-cessation services, even though smokers trying to quit are four times more likely to succeed if they can benefit from such services. Is it not essential to reverse cuts in funding to Public Health England and spend money cost effectively on further advertising campaigns to reduce the prevalence of smoking among adults in this country?

The noble Lord is right to praise the success that we have had in smoking cessation in this country. We now have the lowest rates of smoking that we have ever had, some of which is because of the work of local authorities and PHE. He is right to identify the need to target the variation and inequalities. We are targeting this through the prevention Green Paper and we identify the need for a sustainable funding settlement through the spending review allocation.

A study of over 38,000 people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease found that opportunities to diagnose were missed in 85% of patients in the five years before their diagnosis. My mother was probably included in that number. Will the Minister commit to introduce target case findings in general practice for people who have symptoms suggestive of COPD with follow-up care and services? How do the Government intend to eliminate the postcode lottery that exists in the quality of and access to COPD treatment?

The noble Baroness is quite right: COPD is the second most common lung disease in the UK. It is disturbing that around a third of people, in their first hospital admission for COPD, had not been previously diagnosed. NHS RightCare is developing a COPD pathway, which is being rolled out nationally through clinical commissioning groups, to identify the core components of an optimal service for people with COPD to ensure earlier diagnosis and better management, so that they do not experience the concerns that she has identified.

My Lords, further to the Minister’s helpful comments about air quality, can she tell us to what extent Her Majesty’s Government are monitoring the existence of microparticles of plastic in the air, especially in our cities, and the impact they are having on lung health?

The right reverend Prelate raises an extremely important point on air health. While we have long-term commitments in the clean air strategy, and the other measures that have been put forward in the Green Paper and net-zero commitments, NICE has published guidance on the effect of air pollution on people with chronic respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. We also have the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants, which advises the Government on many matters, including those the right reverend Prelate raised.

My Lords, I remind noble Lords of my registered interests. Are Her Majesty’s Government satisfied that the research strategy between UKRI and the National Institute for Health Research is sufficiently well co-ordinated to ensure discovery, as well as early evaluation and adoption, of novel therapies that could manage chronic lung disease more effectively?

The noble Lord has raised a crucial point, which is not a surprise given his expertise in this area. We have been working with him and others to ensure that the most innovative medicines are getting to patients as quickly as possible. We announced the Accelerated Access Collaborative to identify those innovative medicines and ensure that we speed up the rate of ideation to uptake in the NHS, particularly for illnesses such as asthma. For example, smart inhalers and integrated connected devices could dramatically improve the management of that condition.