Respiratory professionals have called for the establishment of a national respiratory taskforce to stem the rise of respiratory disease in Ireland.
Respiratory disease is responsible for almost one in five deaths in Ireland and now accounts for more hospitalisations than for cardiovascular and non-lung cancer cases combined.
A report from the Irish Thoracic Society - Respiratory Health of the Nation 2018, shows that one in seven of all in-patient hospitalisations in 2016 were for respiratory disease and the vast majority (85%) were for emergency unscheduled care.
It points out that the big three respiratory conditions causing disability and death are lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia.
National strategies for cancer and cardiovascular disease in recent years have led to significant improvements in outcomes.
Between 2007 and 2016 the number of people dying from cardiovascular disease fell by 7.5%.
However, the number of people dying from respiratory disease over the same period increased by 14.6%.
There were 5,720 deaths associated with respiratory disease in 2016.
The report calls for greater public awareness of the signs and symptoms of respiratory disease and the importance of presenting earlier to a GP.
It points out that more than a quarter of lung cancer patients are diagnosed following an emergency hospital visit.
It wants national campaigns to raise awareness of symptoms of lung disease to be accompanied by improved diagnostic and treatment capacity.
It also supports strengthening immunisation programmes to maximise uptake of vaccination in children, the elderly and other at-risk groups.
Report co-author, Eimir Hurley, a biostatistician and pharmacist from Dunmanway, Co.Cork and based at the Center for Health Policy and Management, Trinity College Dublin said they looked at 11 common respiratory conditions and the age of patients.
“He was a smoker and, while that is important to highlight, there should not be a taboo associated with lung cancer. People who have never smoked get lung cancer.”
President of the Irish Thoracic Society, Prof Ross Morgan, said there are too few respiratory specialists, particularly consultants, with numbers lagging well behind other EU countries.
Prof Morgan said a national taskforce is needed to put respiratory disease on an equal footing with heart disease and cancer where, thanks for dedicated strategies in recent years, patients had experienced improved outcomes.
“The taskforce is a key starting point if we are serious about stemming the tool of respiratory disease on people's health, quality of life, livelihood and longevity,” said Prof Morgan.
The report says primary doctors need access to pulmonary function tests and improved access to community outreach, pulmonary rehabilitation and timely access to specialist respiratory expertise when needed.
One in four children's consultations with GPs are for respiratory problems.
Respiratory diseases account for almost a third of inpatient hospitalisations for 0-4 year olds and 27% of those aged 0-15 years.