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Independents' Day

GPs have seen ‘75,000’ patients following charity breathlessness campaign

A national campaign encouraging people to do an online breathlessness test led to 75,000 people making an appointment with their GP to get checked out, early results have shown.

The ongoing ‘Listen to your lungs’ campaign was set up by the British Lung Foundation (BLF) and started lasted July, with publicity urging people to go online and answer questions about how easily they get out of breath.

The campaign – which coincided for the first six months with the Government’s separate, but similar, respiratory symptoms campaign – has so far seen some 250,000 complete the online questionnaire, the BLF said.

A survey conducted on a sample of some 600 of those who completed the online questionnaire indicated that 30% – or around 75,000 people – had visited their GP as a result.

In addition, 8% – about 20,000 – said they had been sent for further tests by their GP or been diagnosed with a lung condition.

No detail is available yet on what specific conditions people had been diagnosed with or their outcomes, but the BLF said it wants to boost uptake further and raise awareness amongst GPs.

The charity has launched a new digital advertising campaign at bus stops, featuring hills and staircases and asking: ‘Does climbing leave you breathless? If ‘yes’, do something about it: breathless could be a symptom of a serious lung condition’.

Penny Woods, BLF chief executive, said: ‘We want the people in the UK who may have a lung disease but do not have a diagnosis - who feel breathless on a daily basis - not to dismiss it. Thousands of people have taken the test since we launched the campaign but we still want more people to take it and share the test with their friends and family. The more people we can encourage to talk about lung disease the better.’

Dr Noel Baxter, chair of the Primary Care Respiratory Society and a GP in south-east London, who helped develop the online questionnaire based on the Medical Research Council's breathlessness scale, welcomed the findings.

Dr Baxter said: ‘We know from population studies (not healthcare) that 10% of adults have had daily disabling breathlessness for the last three months or more. Once you get to the older population, studies suggest 30% are dealing with breathlessness every day.

‘It’s no surprise, therefore, that there is an appetite for people to do this test. We know that refractory breathlessness is a predictor for increased healthcare utilisation and premature death but patients tend not to tell us about it until it’s too late.'

It comes as Cancer Research UK and Public Health England are in the process of analysing initial results from their own national respiratory symptoms campaign which ran from July to November last year.The campaign urged people to ‘tell your GP if you get out of breath doing the things you used to be able do’, alongside the original strapline from the national lung cancer awareness campaign which advised people to visit their GP if they have a cough lasting three weeks or longer.

The campaign previously came under criticism from GP leaders because the pilot had not yet been properly evaluated before being rolled out nationally.

Dr Andrew Green, GPC’s clinical and prescribing policy lead, said there were 'benefits in proper assessment of new onset breathlessness, with early intervention in COPD being a case in point' but added that he was concerned that the BLF had not co-ordinated with the GP profession and piloted it properly before national roll-out.

Dr Green said: ‘As independent organisations, charities don’t need to co-ordinate with anyone before spending their money.

‘The key here is proper piloting, with a comprehensive independent analysis of the benefits and the harms that can result before any national roll-out.’

Asked to comment on BLF’s campaign and how this would impact on evaluation of its own publicity campaign, Public Health England said in a statement: ‘We welcome the news that more people have taken action and been diagnosed, whether it is through BLF’s activity, ours, or a combination of the two. 

'The objective of the Be Clear on Cancer Respiratory Symptoms Campaign objective is the same as BLF’s – to increase early diagnosis of lung disease, including cancer and, because of this, it will not be possible to completely separate the impacts of the two campaigns.'

The statement added that 'it will be difficult to disentangle its impact from other marketing activity run at the same time' but that 'it's likely that the two campaigns will have worked together to amplify the overall impact'.




Readers' comments (7)

  • Dear All,
    Ok so an admirable cause but someone somewhere has to be the first to pipe up and ask; adding work to an already overloaded system?
    GPs can barely cope with existing politically generated demand, now add in the 100+ other health charities each of whom will want to add their own un-piloted national scheme and we have a formula for meltdown. No honest human being can reasonably expect NHS GPs to be responsible for meeting the demands created by an unlimited number of organisations that operate beyond reasonable scientific control and whose only constraint is their ability to launch a national social media grabbing health related story, i.e. no limitation whatsoever. I have no issue with identifying respiratory disease as long as the consequent downstream implications have been understood and sorted. If my surgeries are filled to bursting with patients who have completed a "do you get tired going up stairs" questionnaire, my response is to ask which twilight hours am i going to utilise to see the patients who have completed the "I'm 50, overweight, hypertensive, diabetic, non compliant, beer swilling, smoker, father died of an MI aged 45, have pain in my chest, can't breath, my wife says i'm cold blue and clammy" or the "I have more stamina if I am wearing green socks, do i need a blood test?" questionnaires?
    Paul C

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  • Well said. Similar to "sepsis" . Good intentions but another unintended nail in the coffin as incompatible systems meet.

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  • Remember the see your GP if you've coughed more than 3 weeks campaign. Funds for public health funds for the hospitals to deliver that sweet funds all for primary care which took the brunt.

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  • Charity's idea has good intention no doubt. GPs who are arguing system is overloaded, did they work extra hours due to this roll out?
    All 70k patients due to this study managed to see GPs already. any GP or surgery has complained that they are overloaded because of this national roll out before this article has come out, no?
    I can say all the GPs worked same number of hours during this roll out as before.
    What must have happened is regular 70k patients whom otherwise we would have seen must not have received appointments due this roll out.
    We can argue that existing GPs hours must have have helped this 70k patients in place of our regular 70k symptomatic patients.
    Now the questions by doing this roll out have we harmed some symptomatic regular patients who would have attended or anybody died?
    If we over load GPs with preventive work in place of regular symptomatic patients there may be some indirect harm to patients, AEs and OOH attendance may increase.
    In the end I feel if many organisations take decisions their own way without coordinating with GPs / NHS England etc will affect other areas of care and targets.

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  • So, if each of these appointments cost £45, this cost an extra £3.4m in GP time. As there were no more resources coming in to the system to pay for the extra work, this means the cost was borne by GPs. As there around 30K GPs WTE, this means this project cost each GP about £110 in time or expense.

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  • Does anyone else object to using the word "breathless" as a noun/diagnosis? Up there with "overweight" as my current pet hates.
    Perhaps a co-morbidity clinic should be set up for those with breathless secondary to overweight.

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  • GPs time is "free." What is "free" will not be valued.

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