A health charity has hit out at the lack of vital services for Scots suffering from lung conditions, highlighting the “unacceptable” waits some patients have to endure for treatment.
Asthma and Lung UK Scotland contacted health boards across the country to find out how many people were on the list for pulmonary rehabilitation services and how long the wait for assistance is.
In response to a freedom of information request from the charity, NHS Forth Valley revealed its average waiting time is 12 to 18 months – although the health board added that “patients are assessed and more urgent referrals are prioritised and seen sooner”.
Meanwhile, NHS Highland said that while its average wait was 4.5 months last year, there had been a wait of 29 months in 2020, when services were impacted by Covid.
The health board said that, during this time, patients had been “offered one-to-one and online classes but opted to wait”.
Asthma and Lung UK Scotland said that two years after the launch of the Scottish Government’s respiratory care action plan, many patients were facing long waits for help.
It comes as the charity stressed the vital role such services can provide, with pulmonary rehabilitation working to improve muscle strength – thus helping patients to breathe more easily and also potentially reducing the risk of emergency hospital admissions.
Joseph Carter, head of Asthma and Lung UK Scotland, said: “Scotland has one of the highest respiratory death rates in Europe and although we are grateful that we have a national action plan, we are concerned about the lack of progress.
Public health minister Jenni Minto will attend an event in Holyrood on Tuesday to mark the second anniversary of the respiratory care action plan (Jane Barlow/PA)
“This can be seen in the unacceptable wait for, or indeed lack of, vital respiratory rehabilitation for thousands of people with a lung disease across the country.”
Mr Carter continued: “One in five Scots live with a lung condition, it is one of the major chronic conditions in our nation costing the public over £1 billion a year, and yet it is not seen as a priority.
“This needs to change. We need to have an action plan, not an inaction plan.
“The respiratory care action plan needs to be fully funded and health boards need to rebuild services in their local areas. This requires political leadership from the new public health minister.”
Jenni Minto, the minister for public health, is due to attend an event in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday to mark the second anniversary of the respiratory care action plan.
However, only seven of Scotland’s 14 regional health boards provided information on pulmonary rehabilitation to Asthma and Lung UK Scotland, with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, the country’s largest health board, revealing it has 447 patients currently waiting for this.
Meanwhile, NHS Lothian had 594 patients waiting as of December 2022, with an average waiting time of 26.9 weeks – although it reported a wait of 76.9 weeks in the third quarter of 2021.
And in NHS Grampian, the average waiting time has gone from 12 weeks in 2019 to 32 weeks in 2022.
Linda McLeod, 74, who suffers from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) emphysema, and chairs the Breathe Easy group in Clackmannanshire for people living with lung conditions, told how pulmonary rehabilitation had helped her.
Ms McLeod said: “I definitely felt the benefits of pulmonary rehabilitation, I noticed fewer symptoms, less coughing and shortness of breath.
“You are able to walk more as the sessions help improve your ability to exercise. Best of all, your overall quality of life improves.”
She added: “Living with a lung disease is a debilitating condition and anything that can be done to improve quality of life has to be applauded.”