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GPs to play central role in COPD screening drive

By Nigel Praities

GPs may be asked to measure the lung function of millions of patients – including children - under plans to diagnose COPD earlier released today by the Government.

The long-awaited Strategy for COPD reveals the Government is developing programmes for spirometry checks in seven and 14 year olds and greater use of proactive case-finding in adults aged 25 and 40 years.

Pulse revealed in 2008 that lung health assessments would be in the strategy and in October last year that these would include proposals for GPs to target children as young as seven.

The strategy – out for consultation until April - goes even further than this, with proposals for a register of low-birth weight babies as they are more likely to develop respiratory disease later in life.

The screening programmes are still in development, but if pilots show they are successful the Government says they will be considered for a national roll-out by the National Screening Committee.

Health Secretary Andy Burnham said the new strategy would ‘focus minds' on better diagnosis and treatment of COPD.

‘COPD is notoriously hard to spot in its early stages, and yet the sooner it is diagnosed the more we can do for people with the condition,' he said.

‘There are more than three million people with COPD in this country, yet less than a million have been diagnosed, so we need to raise awareness and improve knowledge of the symptoms as a matter of urgency.'

The strategy also includes plans for three-yearly checks for all COPD patients – which may be included in QOF - and reveals plans for new Government guidelines on spirometry testing in GP surgeries to ensure accurate diagnosis.

The Government is developing programmes for spirometry checks in seven and 14 year olds