Why lung health matters

To stay alive, we need oxygen. Without our lungs, we can’t get the oxygen we need. If your lungs are damaged, you can’t breathe. If you can’t breathe, you can have problems doing even the smallest task. This is why lung health matters.

“We know too well what it feels like to go from being a person to being a patient. There is no greater change.” 

Taskforce patient representatives

Lung disease is a top killer in the UK

Lung diseases are the third largest killer in the UK, responsible for 20% of all deaths per year. More people are now dying from lung conditions in the UK than anywhere else in Europe. Shockingly, people in the UK are three times more likely to die from lung disease than in Finland, which has the lowest lung disease death rates in Europe.

Illustration showing alarm clock that says 115,000 people die each year form lung disease

Lung disease is the biggest cause of winter pressures on the NHS

Respiratory conditions are the biggest cause of winter pressures in the NHS, with hospital admissions for lung disease doubling in the last 20 years. Asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) cost the NHS £9.6 billion in direct costs each year.  You can read more about the burden of lung diseases on the NHS in our ‘Saving Your Breath’ Report.

There has been little progress

Progress in improving our lung health has been slow, and much slower than for other major causes of death such as cardiovascular disease. For lung conditions, the avoidable mortality rate has improved by 14% on average across England over the past 20 years. This pales in comparison to advances made for cardiovascular disease, where the equivalent improvement was 58%.

If avoidable deaths from lung disease had reduced at the same rate as cardiovascular disease over the last 20 years, there would be an estimated 8000 fewer deaths from respiratory conditions now each year.

Lung diseases have the biggest impact of health inequalities

Chronic respiratory conditions have the biggest impact on health inequalities. There are twice as many emergency respiratory admissions in 2021/2022 for those living in the most deprived communities compared to the least deprived. Tragically, mortality rates illustrate stark respiratory health inequalities. Research conducted by Asthma and Lung UK indicated that the bottom 10% of earners were twice as likely to be hospitalised and nine times more likely to die during the winter months due to lung conditions.

We know that the poorest children suffer the worst from lung conditions. Children in the most deprived communities were 5.6 times more likely to end up in hospital in an emergency over winter compared to children living in the richest communities. To tackle health inequalities the Government must transform the care of people living with lung conditions.

“Lung health just isn’t taken as seriously as a number of other conditions. It’s a big killer and very prevalent, yet we are not doing the best we can to help patients with respiratory conditions.”

Dr Noel Baxter, PCRS

Learn more about the Taskforce for Lung Health.