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Help on the line for respiratory disease sufferers

Thousands of people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), whose breathing difficulties can be made worse by bad weather, could have their suffering eased and their need for additional healthcare reduced under a new collaborative scheme that is being launched this week involving NHS Direct, the Met Office and Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale Primary Care Trust.

Some 3,000 COPD sufferers from the area will be invited to sign up to the scheme, which will involve NHS direct contacting them when bad weather is forecast to check on their condition and to make sure they have enough medication, food and heating to last them through the cold snap.

Under the scheme, should there be any concern about a patient's welfare, NHS Direct would also refer back to relevant health and social care agencies to ensure their wellbeing. In this way, sufferers who might otherwise be admitted to hospital can be helped to look after themselves at home.

Commenting on the scheme NHS Direct's regional head of Service Development, Kathy Agrebi, said: "We are hoping that around 1,600 patients of those we contact will sign up for the service and believe that by operating it through the rest of this winter we can have a direct effect in reducing the number of sufferers having to go to A&E. This in turn saves valuable NHS resources.

"This is the first scheme of this kind in which we have been involved and to ensure that it is properly evaluated we have funded an independent assessment by Imperial College London. The lessons learned from this scheme can then be applied elsewhere across the country."

Karen Clancy, respiratory nurse consultant for Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale PCT, said: "Over the years many of the COPD patients that I have supported have commented on how a change in weather, particularly in the winter time, affects their respiratory symptoms. This results in a number of patients experiencing an exacerbation of their symptoms resulting in the need to see their GP or even a spell in hospital.

"This innovative exciting project, which has the support from our Rochdale Breathe Easy Support Group, will assist people living with COPD to be proactive in their management of their own condition and hopefully enable them to remain well, active and independent during the winter months."