Call for taskforce to deal with ‘rising tide’ of lung disease

Respiratory deaths in Ireland 40% above EU average – accounting for one-in-five fatalities

Common respiratory conditions account for one-in-five deaths, and one-in-five emergency hospitalisations, in Ireland. File photograph: Getty Images

Common respiratory conditions account for one-in-five deaths, and one-in-five emergency hospitalisations, in Ireland. File photograph: Getty Images

 

A special taskforce needs to be set up to address the “rising tide” of respiratory disease in Ireland, according to a new report.

Lung disease is placing a growing strain on the health system as the population ages and grows, with respiratory deaths up 15 per cent over the past decade, it notes.

Common respiratory conditions account for one-in-five deaths, and one-in-five emergency hospitalisations, in Ireland. And whereas our performance on cancer and heart disease ranks about average internationally, deaths from respiratory diseases are almost 40 per cent above the EU average.

The “critical challenge” posed by these trends requires the establishment of a national respiratory taskforce, according to the Irish Thoracic Society which represents doctors working in the area.

“Respiratory diseases make up three of the top six causes of death in Ireland, with the big three being lung cancer, COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] and pneumonia,” said Dr Máire O’Connor, report co-author and a HSE specialist in public health medicine.

“Death is only the tip of the iceberg of the burden of disease on individuals, families and the health services. While smoking is a key risk factor for many respiratory diseases, we are also seeing the influence of other social and environmental factors on respiratory health.”

What is the extent of this problem?

Dr O’Connor called for a cross-sectoral approach that ensures people who are short of breath or have a chronic cough go to GPs early and get timely access to lung function tests as well as necessary medical interventions.

The report, Respiratory Health of the Nation 2018, provides an overview of the impact of the disease in the country as well as information on 11 common respiratory conditions and their effect on children and older people.

Respiratory disease now accounts for more hospitalisations than for cardiovascular and non-lung cancer cases combined. It also accounted for 5,720 deaths in 2016.

Irish Thoracic Society president Prof Ross Morgan said there are too few respiratory healthcare workers and access to pulmonary rehabilitation is severely limited.

“This taskforce is a key starting point if we are serious about stemming the toll of respiratory disease on people’s health, quality of life, livelihood and longevity.”