The government is being called upon by industry organisations to place a greater prioritisation on the work done by specialist nurses working in the field of respiratory care.
Bodies representing the nursing sector have urged the coalition to increase investment in training and recruitment within this sector to tackle the growing burden that lung disease and breathing disorders are placing on the UK population.
Up until now, respiratory illnesses have had a relatively low profile in Britain, so the involvement and engagement of medical staff with expertise in this field is essential to reverse the trend.
The scale of the problem
The current calls for action have been prompted by the release of an all party parliamentary group report on respiratory health, assessing the extent to which this issue is affecting the UK.
Last year, health secretary Jeremy Hunt highlighted respiratory disease is a national priority, with respiratory disease currently affecting one in five people in the UK. Worryingly, this country's mortality rates for respiratory conditions are among the highest in Europe.
It is estimated that asthma kills three people every day, with up to 90 percent of these fatalities thought to be preventable with better care and treatment. Meanwhile, it is believed that deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) could also be cut by one-third through improved NHS management.
When also factoring in the number of people contracting lung cancer as a result of smoking and other causes, the scale of the problem becomes clear.
What can be done
Responding to the new inquiry, the Association of Respiratory Nurse Specialists and Royal College of Nursing have moved to raise awareness of the effects of respiratory conditions, and the positive difference that could be made by extending access to highly trained specialist nurses, who can offer support and advice to help patients manage their conditions.
Specifically, the members of the organisations have recommended a number of potential solutions, including increased investment in smoking cessation messages targeted at 16 to 24-year-olds.
Investing in education and support for non-specialists - such as practice nurses - who encounter respiratory illnesses regularly has also been suggested, as well as encouraging early diagnosis of COPD via a targeted screening programme.
The introduction of a nurse lead for asthma and COPD in every clinical commissioning group has also been endorsed as a measure that could yield benefits.
The views of the experts
Rebecca Sherrington, chair of the Association of Respiratory Nurse Specialists, said: "Nurses are vital in the delivery of respiratory care throughout the whole patient journey and we have therefore responded by sharing our members' best practice, experiences and views with the inquiry."
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, added: "Unmanaged, asthma and COPD too often prove fatal and it is time for the NHS as a whole to focus on preventing and managing these conditions.
"A patient should be able to expect the same high standard of care wherever they live and respiratory nurses have a crucial role in delivering that."
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