The battle for breath - the economic burden of lung disease

The British Lung Foundation have estimated the cost to the UK economy of all lung disease at £11 billion. Much of that unsurprisingly falls directly on the NHS to manage lung diseases such as asthma and COPD, but over £1 billion is borne by the UK economy from lost workdays due to respiratory disease and that figure neglects several £billion lost in the potential earnings of unemployed carers.

The report calls for greater investment in research, diagnosis and treatment, better prevention and more attention paid to the impact air pollution has on our health as progress in these areas hasn't improved for over ten years. There are wide variations in care across the UK, the underprivileged are far more at risk of developing lung disease than those who live is less deprived areas.

Improvements in cancer and cardiac disease care has seen real progress and the BLF want to see similar progress for respiratory disease driven by a new strategy.

Main points from the report are:

  • Respiratory disease costs the UK £11 billion a year, representing 0.6% of UK GDP
  • The most costly lung conditions are: COPD (£1.9 billion each year), asthma (£3 billion) and lung, trachea and bronchial cancers (£183 million)
  • Comparison with other disease areas: based on direct costs, lung disease ranks as the 4th most costly disease area to the UK, after mental health conditions, musculoskeletal diseases and heart disease
  • Respiratory health is a huge economic burden, costing the UK economy £1.2 billion a year; similar to mental health (£1.27 billion)
  • The governments and NHS in both England and Scotland need to establish a taskforce for lung health and produce new five year strategies for tackling lung disease

Given these costs - approximately 10% of the NHS budget a year - it is not difficult to see that if saving can be achieved (e.g. by better diagnosis enabling better, earlier management of each condition, reducing severity. Or perhaps work carried out on prevention by highlighting the impact and reducing air pollution both indoor and out?) then a lot of money might be freed up. Perhaps those savings could be used to help eliminate the lack of equity of care across the UK?