NHS Direct, the Met Office and Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale Primary Care Trust are collaborating on a new project to help thousands of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in times of bad weather.

COPD is one of the most common respiratory diseases in the UK causing 30,000 deaths a year. In bad weather, patients’ symptoms can get worse and they can experience more breathing difficulties than normal.

This new collaboration will see around 3000 COPD patients from the area invited to sign up to the scheme. When the Met Office predicts bad weather in the area, nurses from NHS Direct will contact patients who have signed up and check on their condition.

The nurse would also ensure that the patient has enough medication, food and heating to last them through the cold snap. If there are concerns about a patient’s welfare, there will be a referral to a relevant health and social care agency to check on the patient.

Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale PCT’s respiratory nurse consultant, Karen Clancy, 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.”

An estimated 1.5m patients in the UK suffer from COPD, but only-two thirds have actually been diagnosed with the disease, which causes permanent damage to the lungs.  

NHS Direct hope that patients in Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale will sign up to the scheme.

NHS Direct’s regional head of service development., Kathy Agrebi, said: “We are hoping that around 1600 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.”

Statistics show that COPD results in 109,000 hospital admissions and one million hospital bed days, costing around £600m.

NHS Direct hope to be able to expand the service to cover the whole country and reduce this burden on the health service.

Agrebi said: “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.”