Joseph Carter, Head of Devolved Nations for British Lung Foundation and Asthma UK, details the present concerns of both organisations, and how they’re supporting those with lung conditions through the pandemic.
The unfortunate fact is that one in five of us will have a lung disease; that’s hundreds of thousands either directly or indirectly affected by lung diseases in Wales. Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation Wales is the only UK-wide charity looking after the nation’s lungs; our job is to promote, grant and highlight the level of care and guidance needed to allow us all to breathe easier out of healthier lungs.
Our work is wide ranging, from promoting lung condition awareness days, such as World Asthma Day on May 5th to calling for a new Clean Air Act for Wales, to improve both overall air quality and the health of our lungs across the nation.
This is especially true during times like these. We are urgently trying to maintain our levels of support to people living with a lung condition, such as asthma or COPD, while also creating brand new support services through the Post-Covid Hub for those hospitalised during the pandemic. Although research is ongoing, we are receiving calls and offering support to those left with ongoing difficulties after recovering from Covid.
Anxious? So are we.
We can all agree that these are unprecedented times, and with such a drastic change to our everyday lives, it is only natural that we feel anxious. We recently conducted a survey in Wales to assess the effects of Covid-19 on people with lung conditions. When asked how they felt, nearly 90% responded with top-scale anxiety levels of between six and ten. A similar study of the general population, by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), found only 47% of respondents scored between six and ten.
Understandably the anxiety levels of anyone would be high, but during a pandemic that affects the lungs, those with lung conditions feel far more anxious. The health of family members was also a concern to our Welsh respondents. During times where we are not able to physically see our loved ones, anxiety builds behind a screen.
But we can take comfort that those who are asked to stay safe indoors are doing so. Of our respondents who received a shielding letter, nearly all, 98% in fact, were staying inside. This is fantastic news, highlighting the strength and resolve of our most vulnerable to help support our frontline services and save lives.
However, that’s only if you received a letter.
Less than 10% of our respondents actually received a letter. Compared with the other nations, Wales is 7.7% behind the (NI/Scotland/England) average. These results may be because 16% of letters had been sent to the wrong address, while some with lung conditions such as ILD (Interstitial Lung Disease) and IPF (Idiopathic Primary Fibrosis) had not been on the original distribution list.
When we asked our respondents of their concerns during lockdown, 87% of those having trouble getting groceries had not received a shielding letter. What concerns us is that these letters offer support from local authorities, and without them vulnerable members of society are not receiving the support they need to shield.
Recently we published the survey and asked elected representatives to ask questions in the Senedd, highlighting troubling case studies of those currently outside the shielding category.
Recent good news is that Welsh Government have announced that over 21,000 new letters will be sent to people with new conditions added to the vulnerable list, including ILDs. Recipients of these letters will be advised to shield until the 15th of June (the end of the first 12-week period), and thereafter the Welsh Government will update the whole shielding group as the lockdown eases.
The Post-Covid Hub
It is also worth noting that, in our survey, over 62% of our Welsh respondents were concerned about managing their health condition. With the exception of smoking cessation services, (of which we have helped to promote, ‘Help me quit’ by Public Health Wales) access to GPs and hospitals have been down.
Such reductions both increase the risks of poor health and reduce the likelihood of good management of long-term health conditions, such as COPD or Asthma. Extending usual services such as NERS (National Exercise Referral Scheme) or PR (Pulmonary rehabilitation) digitally has always been our priority and the pandemic has highlighted that the need is greater than ever.
Digital innovation of services will help during the pandemic but also through flu season, particularly while those most at risk choose to socialise less to reduce their exposure.
Through development of new digital services, such as the Post-COVID HUB and support from our helplines and advice groups, we will continue to advocate for better lung health for all.
For more information about COVID-19 and the support we offer, see both our websites:
- Asthma UK:org.uk/advice/triggers/coronavirus-covid-19/
- British Lung Foundation:org.uk/support-for-you/coronavirus
AUK-BLF Wales supports the #NeverMoreNeeded campaign – to help remind government, funders, donors and the general public of how essential the voluntary sector is now and in the future.