Ireland's death rate from respiratory diseases is almost 40% higher than the EU average, a new report has revealed.
According to Respiratory Health of the Nation 2018, which has been published by the Irish Thoracic Society, respiratory diseases currently cause almost 19% of all deaths here, and account for almost 20% of all hospital emergency inpatient admissions.
Among children up to the age of 15, respiratory conditions account for over 26% of all hospital admissions and 25% of all consultations with GPs.
The three respiratory conditions that cause the most disability and death in this country are lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia. However, other respiratory conditions include asthma, cystic fibrosis and obstructive sleep apnoea.
The report highlights that between 2007 and 2016, the number of deaths in Ireland from respiratory diseases jumped by almost 15%, with a total of 5,720 deaths in 2016. During the same period, there was a 7.5% drop in deaths from cardiovascular disease.
"This report shines a light on the immense burden of respiratory disease in Ireland, showing it to be one of our most critical health challenges. Respiratory diseases make up three of the top six causes of death in Ireland, with the big three being lung cancer, COPD and pneumonia, but death is only the tip of the iceberg of the burden of disease on individuals, families and the health services," commented the report's co-author, Dr Maire O'Connor, a specialist in public health medicine with the HSE.
In response to the report, the Irish Thoracic Society is calling for the establishment of a national respiratory taskforce to address the increase in respiratory diseases in Ireland.
According to Prof Ross Morgan of the society, while there has been some improvements in respiratory care in recent years, major challenges remain, including a lack of specialists.
"There are too few respiratory specialists, in particular consultants, the numbers of which lag well behind other EU countries, but also nurses, physiotherapists, physiologists and other allied healthcare professionals.
"In addition, access to elements of good quality care such as pulmonary rehabilitation is severely limited. We also need to meet the challenge of providing integrated care for conditions such as COPD with a properly-resourced primary care community," he said.
Prof Morgan insisted that more focus on awareness, prevention and earlier detection of these conditions is required, along with better resourced and co-ordinated services.
"That's why the Irish Thoracic Society believes a national taskforce is needed to put respiratory disease on an equal footing with heart disease and cancer where, thanks to dedicated strategies in recent years, patients have experienced improved outcomes.
"This taskforce is a key starting point if we are serious about stemming the toll of respiratory disease on people's health, quality of life, livelihood and longevity," he commented.
The key symptom in respiratory disease is difficulty breathing, which is often accompanied by other symptoms, particularly coughing. Smoking is the main cause for two of the most important diseases - lung cancer and COPD - in terms of numbers affected and impact both on health and on health services.
The Irish Thoracic Society noted that the time lag of 20-30 years between tobacco exposure and the development of disease means that both of these conditions will remain major challenges for many years to come in Ireland.
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