World Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Day

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

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Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

Yesterday—20 November—was world COPD day. I am pleased to speak in this chronic obstructive pulmonary disease debate, and I congratulate Annie Wells—the Parliament’s COPD champion—on lodging the motion.

As convener of the cross-party group on lung health and still a registered nurse, I am passionate about policy on raising awareness of and promoting respiratory health. My big sister, Phyllis Murphie, who is a nurse consultant in respiratory medicine, suggested that a cross-party group on lung health should be created. Who is going to argue with their big sister? Since the CPG’s inception, she has been an active, supportive and crucial member. Much of her professional work is with people who have COPD.

I thank the organisations and individuals who have provided briefings for the debate. I also thank Kathryn Byrne from Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland and the BLF’s Frank Toner for excellent CPG support. He has been invaluable; the BLF has promoted lung health champions: we now have 10 MSP champions in Parliament.

COPD is a progressive and long-term lung condition with no cure. The umbrella term “COPD” is used to describe several lung conditions, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Cigarette smoking is recognised as a primary cause. The condition affects 141,000 people in Scotland, with many more not yet diagnosed.

One way to describe how COPD feels is that it is like trying to breathe through a straw. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale—it is hard work to breathe efficiently through a wee straw, and that is how folk with COPD feel. The increased work to move air in obstructed lungs causes breathlessness, tiredness, coughing and, often, other symptoms including depression and social isolation.

During my first year as an MSP, I led a debate on world COPD day in November 2016. I started with the words of Sir Michael Marmot, who was at the forefront of the research that was behind the British Lung Foundation’s “The Battle for Breath—the impact of lung disease in the UK” report. He said:

“Breathing is something we all do, day in, day out, every day of our lives. It is so innate that most of us rarely stop to think about it.”

In the debate in 2016, several asks were made of the Scottish Government to take seriously the recommendations of clinicians and patients.

I am pleased that, since that debate, the Scottish Government has been delivering. Better lung health for people in Scotland is high on the health agenda, and it is worth noting the steps that have been taken since the 2016 debate.

One of the CPG asks was for a respiratory quality improvement plan. In 2017, the Government announced a lung health task force, to be led by NHS Tayside consultant Dr Tom Fardon. I acknowledge the work of Dr Ian Small and Phyllis Murphie ahead of the announcement. Dr Fardon engaged with NHS expert clinicians, patients and stakeholders. I am aware that a Scottish respiratory care action plan will be presented imminently. I am looking forward to seeing the plan’s contents, including recommendations for people with COPD. I will welcome Dr Fardon to the next meeting of the cross-party group on lung health, which should happen around February next year. I encourage the Parliament’s lung health champions to join us.

South-west Scotland has one of the highest rates of COPD in the country. In 2017, I had the privilege of launching BREATH—the borders and regions airways training hub project—which is led by Dr John Lockhart and Dr Lochlan McGarvey. BREATH is an ambitious collaborative research partnership between the Dundalk Institute of Technology, the University of the West of Scotland, Queen’s University Belfast, NHS Dumfries and Galloway and NHS Ayrshire and Arran. The cross-border project has secured €7.7 million Interreg European funding, and has a mission to investigate causes other than smoking, and treatment and prevention of COPD. I am due to accompany Dr Lockhart to a primary school in February so that we can teach young folk the best ways to prevent lung ill health in the first place.

I welcome today’s motion by Annie Wells. I was going to touch on pulmonary rehab, but time is running short. I thank the Scottish Government for taking forward the respiratory action plan and I look forward to its content and delivery.