A NEW action plan to raise awareness of chronic lung disease linked to smoking has been approved by health chiefs.
The plan aims to reach the estimated 1,500 sufferers of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) that have not been diagnosed.
It follows an investigation by Hartlepool Borough Council into the prevalence of the disease and how people access treatment.
An action plan with six recommendations was approved by Hartlepool’s Health and Wellbeing Board which includes members of the council, hospital trust, Healthwatch group and clinical commissioning group.
The action plan includes raising awareness of COPD including with a targeted campaign highlighting the dangers of smoking – its biggest cause – to young people.
Louise Wallace, Hartlepool’s director of public health, said: “The implications on services and managing the demand is absolutely critical and something we mustn’t lose sight of.”
A total of 2,578 people in Hartlepool, or 4.3 per cent of the adult population, had the disease according to the latest figures from 2010-11.
But according to estimates from the British Lung Foundation, another 1,602 could be living with the disease but have not been diagnosed and are therefore not getting treatment.
The region’s industrial legacy is said to account for some cases of the disease but health experts say it is mostly down to smoking.
Ms Wallace added: “We are still seeing the impact of smoking because people have smoked for generations.”
Although there are fewer deaths in Hartlepool caused by COPD, the number of cases are rising, putting more demand on health services.
It is the second most common cause of emergency hospital admissions.
Alan Foster, chief executive of North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, said the issue was a high priority.
Lynn Alison of Healthwatch Hartlepool said people are now being diagnosed at a younger age with COPD.
“It was an old person’s disease but now you get people with it from 35 to 40 years old,” she said.
The new action plan includes the Health and Wellbeing Board promoting local COPD support and rehabilitation programmes to encourage people to attend.