How GPs can help improve guidance on treating breathlessness

GPs encounter patients with breathlessness on a daily basis, says GP and respiratory expert Dr Noel Baxter. An independent taskforce is calling for evidence around the condition - and input from health professionals is vital.

Dr Noel Baxter
Dr Noel Baxter

I have worked a lot on breathlessness during my recent career, focusing on how best to detect and treat breathlessness, as well as how to best treat and support patients with COPD.

Breathlessness is surprisingly common; we know that one in 10 adults are experiencing daily breathlessness that doesn’t go away, defined as every day for at least three months and this increases to over three in 10 older people. Breathlessness can be a very frightening symptom for people and one which is linked to anxiety and depression, lack of exercise and increased hospitalisation.

Too often I meet people who find out too late that their breathlessness is serious. Because the breathlessness symptom is a predictor of ill health and even early death, when people are diagnosed earlier patient outcomes can be significantly improved.

We need a much better understanding of what breathlessness is and why it is important that people tell their doctor about their symptoms. Developing and implementing better guidelines for diagnosing and treating breathlessness will ensure healthcare staff are better equipped to recognise and manage this condition. This would be a huge step forward in tackling lung disease.

Lung disease

It’s clear we need to use the evidence available to change policy and practice across the country – and this is where the Taskforce for Lung Health has the power to really make a difference. The taskforce opened the first stage of its call for evidence last month, where both professionals and members of the public can submit evidence on prevention and diagnosis of lung disease to shape the five-year plan.

It has brought together a unified voice of patients, carers and health professionals, is independent of government and has representatives from 25 organisations, including patients, healthcare professionals, the voluntary sector and professional associations.

As a taskforce we’re using our voice to raise public awareness and understanding of lung health throughout all stages of life as we develop a five-year plan for improving lung health in England. As an expert on breathlessness I’m ensuring my experience of working with patients with the condition is feeding in to this work.

The second call for evidence opens on Tuesday 3 April and will focus on treatment and medicines; living with a lung disease; and end of life. It runs until Friday 18 May. It is so important that professionals in the lung health field submit evidence in their area of interest, particularly where there is less awareness of the issues.

It’s absolutely time that something is done to address lung disease. As a population we are living longer and our lungs need to last a long time. We need to ensure every child born starts with as healthy lungs as possible and that we protect people’s lungs as they age. The Taskforce for Lung Health is bringing together the respiratory sector to bring about this change.

  • Dr Noel Baxter is a member of the taskforce and of the Primary Care Respiratory Society

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