Dear Eastenders, What about COPD?

It is a very rare thing for me to use my blog to discuss my work but I feel the need to say something and for those of you who have no desire to read anything health related please look away now. The things I am about to say are my own opinion and are not representative of any NHS organisation or other health agency in the UK.

For those of you who follow Eastenders you will be aware that Carol has found a lump in her breast and is being referred for further investigations. Entertainment shows like Eastenders and Coronation Street have, over the years, played a huge role in educating and informing the public on issues such as cervical cancer, HIV and AIDS and breast cancer. I have never seen diseases like COPD being dealt with though.

Cancer was diagnosed in some 325,000 people in 2010 and in 2011 160,000 deaths from cancer were recorded. It is predominantly (but not exclusively) found in the older age groups of our communities. COPD is also common in later life and it is likely that over a million individuals currently have the disease in the UK. Deaths from COPD are approximately 25,000 per year BUT when you consider that it is estimated  that there are some 2 million people who are likely to have COPD but not been diagnosed this number could be higher and death has been attributed to other causes on the death certificate.

If our light entertainment agenda is to entertain and educate then surely we need to be focusing on other diseases as well. What about Dot Cotton being diagnosed with COPD then? She has smoked for as long as I can remember and likely fits the criteria for being at risk.

Why should we be bothered about focusing on a disease that is seen to be caused by smoking? This disease places a huge burden on our society and needs to be addressed. An economic analysis of patient responses to a survey in the U.K showed that COPD places a high burden on the healthcare system and society with annual direct costs estimated at  £819.42 per patient, and indirect cost at £819.66 per patient resulting in total per patient costs of £1639.08. The cost impact of the disease was particularly marked in secondary care, as a result of inpatient hospitalizations, amounting to 54% of direct costs.

Lets put aside the insensitivity of that last statement and focus on the real issue. Smokers and ex smokers are fast becoming vilified in our society and these people that we need to be aware of their symptoms and go to their GP are feeling like they can’t because they will be told that their illness is their own fault and to go away and deal with it. Whilst it is true that COPD is a chronic irreversible disease there are interventions available to people to manage their disease and to try to maintain their health. Despite the obvious burden of COPD in this country, there is a lack of recognition of COPD among the general public. Eastenders is missing a trick here in helping raise the profile of a disease that has significant personal and societal impact.

So come on Eastenders, what about doing a storyline on COPD.

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