Leading respiratory experts have warned that Ireland faces a lung disease crisis if urgent action is not taken to increase resources.
According to the Irish Thoracic Society, Covid-19 could lead to unprecedented rates of illness and death from lung disease.
The expert group has called for additional resources for the diagnosis, treatment and ongoing care of people with respiratory conditions which they say is crucial to avoid a lung disease crisis.
The experts say the most at risk are those who have recovered from the acute stage of Covid-19, as well as those who are already living with a respiratory condition but who have not been able to access timely treatment and care.
The respiratory experts on the society’s Covid-19 sub-group also expressed disappointment that the Programme for Government Our Shared Future fails to include a targeted response to the burden on respiratory healthcare services.
The stark reality of delayed access to care for people with lung disease is deteriorating health, reduced quality of life and, sadly, in some cases, premature deathDr Aidan O'Brien
They have called for greater numbers of respiratory specialists and other healthcare professionals to provide care in community and hospital settings.
According to the society, Covid-19 has inflicted a “triple-whammy” on lung health because of reduced access to healthcare services.
Prior to the health pandemic, Ireland’s lung disease rates were already among the highest in the world.
In 2016, respiratory disease was the cause of one in five deaths in Ireland and the country’s death rate from respiratory disease was the fourth highest in the EU-28 and 38% higher than the EU average.
In 2016, respiratory disease accounted for more hospitalisations than for cardiovascular and non-lung cancer cases combined.
Lung diseases include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, lung cancer, cystic fibrosis, pulmonary fibrosis and sleep disorders.
The society has called for an increase in the number of respiratory specialists as well as continued development and application of technology.
Dr Aidan O’Brien, president of the society, said: “It is clear that we are storing up a backlog of undiagnosed and untreated respiratory disease at a magnitude that will have untold implications for the healthcare service and for our patients in the coming months and years unless urgent action is taken.
“The stark reality of delayed access to care for people with lung disease is deteriorating health, reduced quality of life and, sadly, in some cases, premature death.
“We commend the Herculean efforts of our colleagues throughout the healthcare system in retaining access to non-Covid-19 healthcare as much as possible while addressing the specific challenge of Covid-19 through separate access streams, virtual consultations and other innovative solutions.
“However, in order to prevent a future lung health crisis at a scale not yet seen in this country, we need to harness this capacity for transformation, innovation and investment to ensure that our patients can access timely multidisciplinary specialist care at community and hospital levels.”