The Future of Spirometry in Primary Care

13 February 2023

On Friday 2nd December 2022 the Taskforce held a webinar on the future of spirometry in primary care. Spirometry is an important lung function test, used to measure the amount of air you can breathe out and how fast you can blow it out. It is used to monitor and diagnose lung conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on spirometry provision

At the start of the pandemic, spirometry was paused due to concerns about it potentially increasing the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

However, evidence now suggests that spirometry is not an aerosol generating procedure, with the Association for Respiratory Technology & Physiology (ARTP) issuing clear guidance that spirometry is safe:

Spirometry is a safe and important diagnostic test that needs to be restarted in primary and secondary care with some relatively inexpensive IPC (Infection Prevention and Control) measures.”

Despite this guidance, we have heard that spirometry has not been universally restarted across the country and that too many people with respiratory symptoms don’t have access to this important diagnostic tool. With an estimated 51% reduction in COPD diagnoses in 2020, it is vital that spirometry is restarted across the country to ensure that people with COPD and other respiratory conditions get the care and support they need.

Our webinar

On 2 December 2022, Taskforce held a webinar to highlight the need for restarting spirometry safely and quickly, with speakers highlighting barriers, myth-busting, and sharing best practice.

Led by Taskforce diagnosis working group co-chairs, Dr Steve Holmes and Carol Stonham and organised by Asthma + Lung UK and Taskforce Diagnosis policy lead Rachel Warren, the webinar had over 400 registered attendees from across the health and care sector. This shows just how much appetite there is to solve the current challenges around spirometry provision.

The webinar had 8 speakers, in addition to 2 recorded interviews with our patient representatives. These included:

  • Andrew Ellis,Taskforce Senior Health Data Analyst, who presented insights from a survey of 391 healthcare professionals, on perceived barriers and potential solutions to spirometry provision.
  • Patient representatives Katy Brown and Felicity Payne who discussed their spirometry experiences.
  • Joanna Purvis from the Association for Respiratory Technology and Physiology (ARTP), who discussed accreditation and guidance.
  • Dr Murugesan Raja, Dr Sarah Elkin and Dr Helen Ward presented best practice clinical examples on restarting spirometry in Greater Manchester, London and the Midlands.
  • Professor Andy-Menzies Gow (then National Clinical Director for respiratory services in England) who explained how respiratory diagnosis and spirometry fits into NHS England’s Long-Term plan.
  • Amy Taylor Gonzalez from NHS England’s National Diagnostics Transformation Programme, who outlined the role of community diagnostic centres (CDCs) in spirometry provision.
  • Carol Stonham, co-lead for the South West Respiratory Clinical Network, showcasing how they have managed to reintroduce spirometry in their area.

In addition to the excellent presentations, attendees were able to ask questions to our panel of speakers, with queries on issues such as funding/incentives, certification, and infection prevention and control (IPC).

It was great to see so many people invested in and discussing challenges and solutions to restarting spirometry. Hundreds of healthcare professionals joined to share and gain insight on how we can ensure people with lung conditions get a timely and accurate diagnosis.

It was incredibly impactful to hear from Katy and Felicity, the patient representatives, to understand the impact on patients who are waiting for spirometry for an accurate diagnosis or to help monitor their condition.

Webinar recording and summary

A recording of the full webinar is available here:

A full summary of the webinar is available here: Webinar Summary

We hope that the webinar has helped to address concerns around the safety of spirometry and will help reduce some of the difficulties facing its restart, but we know there is still much more to do. The Taskforce will continue to support healthcare professionals to provide spirometry across the country and ensure that patients can get timely access to this key diagnostic tool. Ensuring patients are diagnosed quickly and accurately will mean that they can access the care they need faster, helping them stay healthy and reducing pressure on the health system overall.