World Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Day

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 21st November 2019.

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Photo of Annie Wells Annie Wells Conservative

I thank members from across the chamber for signing my motion, which has allowed us to debate an important issue.

Today marks the 18th annual world COPD day. Its main goal is to raise awareness of COPD worldwide. This year’s theme, “All Together to End COPD”, highlights the fact that many people are involved in the fight to end the disease.

At every stage, and at any age, there is an opportunity to prevent or treat COPD. From care providers and patients, to family members and employers, everyone can make an impact. That is vital because there are 300 million cases of COPD in the world, and the disease is the third-biggest cause of death globally. Closer to home, records show that COPD affects 141,110 Scots, with many more still undiagnosed.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—to use its formal name—is a progressive long-term lung condition without a cure. Patients suffer from conditions such as bronchitis and emphysema, which make it difficult to empty air from the lungs because the airways have narrowed. Exposure to tobacco smoke and other inhaled toxic particles and gases is the main risk factor in respect of COPD.

Treatments for COPD include inhalers, tablets and, for a small number of people, surgery or a lung transplant. Unfortunately, it is estimated that up to two thirds of people with COPD remain undiagnosed. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of early diagnosis and screening in order to ensure that people who are affected by COPD receive the treatment that they need.

Last year, Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland published a report that showed the variable levels of support and treatment that are available to people who are living with chest conditions such as COPD. The report focused on pulmonary rehabilitation. That treatment helps to improve people’s physical and mental health, and saves the national health service money by reducing hospital admissions and halving the time that is spent in hospital.

CHSS found that an estimated 69,000 people would benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation, but that provision of the service is a “postcode lottery”. We supported CHSS’s “Right to pulmonary rehab” campaign, which called on the Government to ensure that people across Scotland get the treatment and support that they deserve.

I will also tell members about a group that is often unseen in the patient community—bear with me while I get the name right. They are people with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, which is more commonly known as alpha-1. We will go with that.

Alpha-1 is a rare inherited condition that makes people susceptible to developing COPD. It is thought that about 25,000 people in the United Kingdom suffer from it. People with alpha-1 lack a particular protective enzyme, which makes them more vulnerable to the effects of inhaling smoke or toxic materials including dust, fumes and chemicals. Patients are often misdiagnosed and receive treatment for other respiratory conditions, such as asthma. Around a third of patients experience a delay in diagnosis of more than seven years after the onset of their symptoms.

In 2012, the alpha-1 community established the Alpha-1 Alliance, which is a group of patients and doctors from across the UK. It works to raise awareness of the unmet medical needs of alpha-1 patients, and it campaigns for better healthcare services. We should all work towards ensuring that those patients receive adequate healthcare.

On a personal note, l understand too well the effects that COPD can have on a person’s life and on their family. About 15 years ago, my dad was diagnosed with COPD. We did not know what it was, so I googled it. At the time, it seemed to be all doom and gloom. It was not until I had researched it more that I understood that he, his general practitioner and my family could do things to help him. Eventually, my dad had to be on oxygen for 24 hours a day, but that did not stop us doing family things together—trips to the shops and going into town or to family events. My dad is no longer with us, but I want to make sure that, during my time in Parliament, I do all that I can to highlight how to prevent and manage the condition.

I commend the British Lung Foundation in Scotland for its work to raise awareness of COPD and to help to ensure that people across Scotland get the treatment and support that they deserve. In recent years, it has had many achievements and has championed many causes, including smoking bans in public places, better oxygen services for patients and greater provision of pulmonary rehab.

Efforts to reduce the burden of COPD are also taking place worldwide. Although there is currently no cure for COPD, in many types of settings and at any stage of the disease, a variety of people take actions, including in smoking cessation programmes and fighting against indoor and outdoor air pollution.

In my area, I have visited groups that encourage people to go to singing classes and to do minimal exercise. I sang a lot with my dad when he was not well. I do not have a great voice, but he did.

Again, I emphasise the need for early diagnosis. There are treatments to help patients to breathe more easily and to have an active life. In order to access them, it is vital that people get early diagnosis.

World COPD day gives us a chance to highlight a condition that affects too many patients and families like mine. We should evoke this year’s world COPD day theme and work together to help patients to get the recognition, support and treatment that they deserve.