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Cheyne Gang Singing Group

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 5th February 2020.

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Photo of Jeremy Balfour Jeremy Balfour Conservative

I, too, congratulate Gordon MacDonald on securing the debate and on raising awareness of the Cheyne Gang choir and the work that it does to support people with long-term respiratory conditions. I also welcome the members of the choir who are in the gallery this evening.

When I sing, I think that I sound like Freddie Mercury or, on a good day, Frank Sinatra. Sadly, the reality is very different. Indeed, as a child, I was asked to leave the choir by my music teacher, who suggested that my talents lay elsewhere. Despite not being able to hold a note and being completely tone deaf, I recognise that singing can be life affirming, especially as part of a large group.

As we heard from Gordon MacDonald, back in 2013, a group of general practice nurses here in Edinburgh set up the original Cheyne Gang choir as a research project. The findings confirmed that bringing together a group of people with a shared medical condition to sing in a choir had physical, social and mental health benefits. Singing provided rehabilitation and resulted in improvements in the quality of life for the majority of its members.

A number of studies have looked at the benefits of group singing for people who are diagnosed with COPD and have revealed encouraging results in relation to improved lung function and quality of life. People with COPD who join singing groups say that singing regularly reduces their feelings of being short of breath, helps them to feel more in control of their breathing and helps them to manage their symptoms better.

COPD is the collective name for a number of lung conditions that cause breathing difficulties, such as chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive airways disease. It is the second most common lung disease in the United Kingdom, behind asthma. It mostly affects middle-aged and older adults who smoke, with the symptoms getting worse over time, which can result in sufferers being limited in carrying out their normal activities.

As of 2019, there were more than 139,000 people in Scotland living with the condition. That figure represents an increase of a quarter over the past decade in the number of people diagnosed with an incurable lung condition. It has led Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland to call on the Scottish Government to commit to all patients having the right to access the appropriate services at the appropriate time.

I understand that the Tweed Valley Cheyne Gang celebrated its first birthday by singing in the Scottish Parliament at a reception that was held by Chest, Heart & Stroke Scotland to launch its report on the need for more rehabilitation services across Scotland. The report highlights how rehabilitation benefits the NHS by helping people stay well and self-manage their condition, thereby reducing the number of hospital admissions, halving the time that patients spend in hospital and reducing the rate of death. Yet, despite the benefits of rehab, access to pulmonary rehabilitation remains patchy. It will be a challenge for all of us as we go forward.

The Scottish Government launched its respiratory care action plan consultation in December. I encourage anyone with an interest in enabling greater access to those services to respond to the consultation, which closes in early April.

From small beginnings, the Cheyne Gang choir has grown. There are now four groups in Edinburgh, one in Innerleithen and one in Coldstream in the Borders, as well as two in Glasgow. It also supports one group in Helensburgh and one in Forfar.

Clearly, the Cheyne Gang choir and others like it provide an important service for people living with COPD. As well as improving physical strength, breathing and energy levels, singing in a choir helps to increase confidence, improve mental health and prevent loneliness. In short, it helps you feel better in health and mind.

I am sure that all of us want to get behind the Cheyne Gang and support it in any way we can. Although I suspect that I will not be allowed to join the choir even with my asthma, I am certainly happy to come along some time and put the kettle on.