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‘Abysmal’ lack of testing for lung conditions is a crisis in general practice

Despite being the third biggest killer in the UK, simple tests for common lung conditions are not widely available in general practice, forcing staff to make educated guesses when it comes to diagnosis

The analysis commissioned by Asthma + Lung UK reveals that he cost of this testing crisis in England alone amounts to an estimated £2.2 billion due to avoidable hospital stays and treatment. Early detection is crucial for treating and managing lung conditions effectively and can help slow down the progression of incurable lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema, or protect people from potentially life-threatening asthma attacks.

‘The barriers GP practices face are huge. These include lack of funding, workforce and training needed to carry out these tests properly and the physical space needed to do them. For people with lung conditions, it means delays to their diagnosis and sometimes progression of their lung disease to more advanced stages which can make treatment more challenging,’ said Dr Andrew Whittamore, Clinical Lead at Asthma + Lung UK.

‘In many areas of the country basic lung function tests are not easy to access. This means many healthcare professionals can’t get a full picture of what might be causing someone to cough, wheeze, have frequent chest infections or shortness of breath. The ripple effect of this lack of testing means that patients are more likely to have a delay in their diagnosis or get an incorrect diagnosis leading to them being more seriously unwell.’

Every year, thousands of people with suspected lung conditions across England miss out on tests. The majority of GP practices are not funded to carry out tests that can help diagnose lung conditions such as asthma and COPD. In contrast, testing for other common conditions, including heart failure, receive ample funding and have well-defined pathways leading to diagnosis.