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COPD: How Nesta's Health Lab is supporting chronic lung conditions across the UK

Across Health Lab we are currently supporting two initiatives focused on COPD through a People Powered Results 100 Day Challenge in Greater Manchester and our Accelerating Ideas programme, which is supporting British Lung Foundation.

One of the teams in our current 100 Day Challenge in Tameside & Glossop, Greater Manchester, has been focusing on improving diagnosis and support for people with COPD. As part of this they have started testing a number of ideas, including hosting a community event to provide information and signposting and a checklist to help standardise care. Naveed Riyaz, a local GP and their team leader, answered our questions:

What are the changes you’re beginning to see for people with COPD in your local area?

In the short-term the changes have been small, but it's vital to remember healthcare and chronic conditions often feel a bit like steering a cruise ship. My biggest wish has been to try and standardise our healthcare approach for patients with COPD to ensure everyone gets what they deserve, rather than the service being operator dependent.

What surprised you most so far about how the 100 Day Challenge works?

The biggest surprise about the 100 Day Challenge has been the assets we already have! I thought I was fairly knowledgeable but I feel like I've learned a lot about the support services that are already available and keen to reach our patients. It's also been really enjoyable meeting and working with new people and teams that I wouldn't otherwise have encountered. And the chance to meet patients in a relaxed environment such as the community event we hosted was really rewarding.

What advice would you give to other health and care practitioners working with people with COPD?

I'm not sure that I'm best placed to give advice to others - in a way that almost implies that I know what I'm doing, and I suspect that's far from the truth! I've found learning about all of our community assets, both local and national, invaluable. Having the chance to signpost patients to support services who are all pulling in the same direction has been great, and having a checklist to remember what we have available to us has helped to make sure all patients receive the best possible care. I think the challenge has heightened my awareness of those patients with respiratory symptoms who smoke and don't have a formal diagnosis, I'm more keen to find the hidden cases of COPD!

Moving from the local to the national scale, our Accelerating Ideas programme in partnership with Big Lottery Fund is supporting the British Lung Foundation to extend their Integrated Breathe Easy model across the UK.

How does the Breathe Easy peer support approach help people with COPD self-manage their conditions?

Integrated Breathe Easy is helping support people living with lung conditions such as COPD in a number of ways, such as monthly peer support groups. COPD primarily affects older people, so symptoms, combined with the effects of ageing, increase the risk of people becoming isolated and lonely. This is why peer support is so important.

During the monthly Breathe Easy meetings a variety of speakers also attend to share information and advice, supporting people to better manage their conditions and maintain their overall wellbeing.

Between the monthly meetings the programme is also providing additional peer support activities to reduce loneliness and improve people’s health and wellbeing, including singing, Tai-Chi, gardening and walking sessions.

What’s the biggest shift you’ve seen for people with COPD since the programme started?

We’ve already noticed some great shifts since we started, including a clear benefit for health services through increased awareness of services such as Pulmonary Rehabilitation and a reduction in GP appointments and unplanned hospital admissions. This is because Integrated Breathe Easy is supporting people to better self-manage their condition and live more independently.

On an individual level, people who have attended Integrated Breathe Easy groups have found them to be an invaluable source of support. Mike, who takes part in Breathe Easy in West Lancashire, said in a recent interview that he felt like he was the only one experiencing COPD until he accessed peer support through the local Integrated Breathe Easy groups. He added:

‘Group members feel a real sense of ‘camaraderie’ and benefit from sharing their personal stories.’

What is your aspiration for health and care for people with COPD five years from now?

Our aspirations for people affected by COPD in 5 years include ensuring that every person diagnosed with COPD will have a ‘Passport’ for their condition, and for them to be aware of and have access to high-quality Pulmonary Rehabilitation.

We are also want to ensure that every person with a chronic lung condition is referred to our Integrated Breathe Easy Groups across the country!