Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Charity calls for patient re-testing amid fears over asthma and COPD misdiagnosis

PATIENTS in West Somerset aged 35 years and older and who have asthma or the progressive illness chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) should be re-tested, according to a leading charity.
The British Lung Foundation is calling for the re-testing following evidence of confusion over diagnosis and treatment of the two respiratory diseases.
A nationwide survey of 776 GPs carried out for the charity by revealed more than three-quarters of doctors in the Westcountry found it challenging to differentiate between asthma or COPD, causing misdiagnosis and distress among patients.
Other survey findings of Westcountry GPs showed:
  • Five per cent of GP practices lacked appropriately trained staff to carry out spirometry testing
  • Less than a third (31 per cent) of GPs were trained to carry out spirometry testing themselves
  • The Westcountry had the highest percentage of GPs, at more than one-quarter (28 per cent), who said there had been no change in the quality of COPD diagnosis under the QOF system
  • Less than two-fifths (39 per cent) of GPs said the QOF system should reward GPs for clarifying whether a patient has asthma or COPD
A separate UK-wide patient survey carried out by the charity showed that nearly two-fifths (39 per cent) had been told they had both asthma and COPD, a far higher figure than should be the case.
The BLF said it was vital a diagnosis of COPD or asthma was clarified and that the GP contract should reward this next year.
BLF spokesman Dr Keith Prowse said: “It can be difficult to differentiate between an asthma and COPD diagnosis but the long-term aims of asthma and COPD treatment are different, and it is vital that people with either disease have an accurate diagnosis.
“In asthma, the aim is to restore full lung function and if it is not treated properly the inflammation can cause scarring in the lungs and permanent damage.
“In COPD, the management of the disease is quite complex and treatments such as pulmonary rehabilitation are crucial.”
BLF chief executive Dame Helena Shovelton said: “Patients get understandably distressed and angry when they realise they have been misdiagnosed and not given the most appropriate treatment.
“We are calling for everybody age over 35 with an asthma or COPD diagnosis to be re-tested, and for this to be made part of the GP contract next year.”
COPD is the umbrella term for a number of lung conditions including chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
It is a progressive, irreversible lung disease which kills more people every year than breast, bowel, or prostate cancer, and is both preventable and treatable.
Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can slow the progression of the illness.
Dame Helena said: “The UK faces a chronic lung disease time bomb.
“COPD is already the fifth biggest killer in the UK and it is the only major cause of death whose incidence is on the increase.
“COPD is caused by smoking or by exposure to environmental pollution and to hazards at work such as dust, fumes, and gases.
“In a very small number of people it is caused by a genetic deficiency.”
The British Lung Foundation is the only UK charity working for everybody affected by lung disease, including COPD.
It provides support via a telephone helpline, booklets on lung diseases and related issues, a comprehensive website, BLF community nurses, and a Breathe Easy support network for anybody affected by lung disease.
The charity’s helpline can be contacted on 08458 50 50 20 or by visiting the website
  • Our photograph shows BLF celebrity supporter,Olympic gold medalist rower James Cracknell. Photo submitted.

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