I would like to thank Public Health England and the British Lung Foundation, in helping to raise awareness about the symptoms of lung disease. I have been in post for two and a half years and our collaborative efforts have already made a huge difference.
What is clear is that early diagnosis is key to a better quality of life for people suffering from lung disease and we are working with PHE to focus on symptoms such as persistent cough and out of the ordinary breathlessness which can often be early warning signs of a problem. The Be Clear on Cancer Campaign aims to improve early diagnosis of cancer by raising awareness among the public and also encouraging people to see their GP without delay.
It is obviously shocking that a BLF survey found that more than half of people in the UK will not be concerned at feeling ‘short of breath’. Some people think that chronic breathlessness in their lives is normal. We need to remind people what is, and what isn’t, normal, and to encourage people with undiagnosed persistent cough to go to their doctor earlier.
We already have evidence that an unacceptably high level of lung cancer patients are being diagnosed when their disease is already very advanced and they may even be hospitalised. Some are told that they have a very short time to live. We want to tackle lung cancer, and also COPD, which is often diagnosed late. I have spoken to colleagues in the House of Commons who say that some of their constituency members come to their surgeries with oxygen tubes attached but they still think they are within the normal range.
We need to do more research into the causes of lung disease and also focus on prevention. Cutting smoking rates is obviously another key way to prevent lung disease. I am happy to say that in 2015, we oversaw the introduction of standardised packaging for tobacco products, and ended smoking in cars carrying children. We have also made it illegal to sell e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18.
We have very encouraging figures showing that smoking rates among young people are falling but we will not rest on our laurels. It is also about ensuring that a new generation does not have to bear the burden of ill health caused by smoking. We are not saying yet it is a job well done. We are now planning to build new tobacco controls plan to help reduce smoking rates still further and safeguard our national health.