3m undiagnosed UK COPD sufferers

Nearly three million people in the UK have undiagnosed COPD which is costing the NHS a potential £3.2 billion a year, a major report has claimed.

The report by the British Lung Foundation has called for increased awareness of COPD and for GPs to diagnose COPD earlier, particularly in areas of high deprivation.

UK prevalence figures for 2006/7 indicated that 1.7 per cent (1,020,000) of the UK population has COPD, although previous research has suggested that the true figure could be as high as 4 per cent (2.4 million), a figure lower than the latest findings.

A sample of 8,215 individuals, aged 35 and over, was used to calculate a COPD population. Registered COPD patients were subtracted to find the undiagnosed population.

Using hospital admissions data and COPD GP surgery registrations data from the DoH, the report reveals the top COPD 'hotspots' in the UK.

Glasgow was found to be the area with the highest level of undiagnosed COPD, followed by Lanarkshire, Liverpool and Hull. Four of the top 10 COPD hotspots are found in the North East of England, with South Tyneside having the highest proportion of people at risk of hospitalisation with COPD.

The report recommends that GPs offer all smokers over the age of 35 a regular spirometry test to ensure COPD is diagnosed at the earliest stage.

Smoking cessation services should proactively target smokers to provide long-term support with follow-up interventions, beyond the current four-week period, in the hotspot areas.

People identified as having severe COPD by their GP should then be referred to a lung specialist within six weeks.

The report concludes that given that the cost difference between treating mild and severe COPD is £1,150 per person, the total annual cost for the NHS for missing the 2.8 million cases of undiagnosed COPD will reach £3.2 billion.

Dr Steve Holmes, Somerset GP and General Practice Airways Group chairman, commented: 'There are a hidden number of people with COPD out there, and not just people with mild COPD but with severe cases of the disease that require urgent care. But, as yet, there is no evidence to suggest that a screening programme for COPD would be the answer.'

sanjay.tanday@haymarket.com

British Lung Foundation: Invisible Lives report 2007

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