quote HEE facebook linkedin twitter bracketDetail search file-download keyboard-arrow-down keyboard-arrow-right close event-note

You are here

Respiratory disease

Respiratory disease affects one in five people and is the third biggest cause of death in England (after cancer and cardiovascular disease). The UK is in the top 20 developed countries for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) deaths and admissions with COPD are the third most common cause of death in England, with approximately 30,000 deaths per year.

The NHS Long Term Plan outlines how Health Education England will be targeting investment to improve treatment and support for people with respiratory disease, with an ambition to transform our outcomes to equal, or better, our international counterparts.

Between 10-30% of people with COPD are not diagnosed until they are admitted to hospital with an exacerbation and only 13% of eligible COPD patients are referred to pulmonary rehabilitation services (these aim to improve patient outcomes and quality of life in 90% of patients who complete a programme). The UK is also one of the worst-performing developed countries ranking 35 out of 37 for asthma deaths in the 5-to-34-year-age range.

NEW! Training Directory for respiratory disease specialty (published October 2023)

Respiratory teams are being impacted by changing patient demographics, workforce shortages, recruitment and seasonal pressures. The importance of providing respiratory education to frontline health workers is imperative to optimize patient support and improve outcomes. 

A new training directory has been developed by the Long Term Conditions programme team, which is a centralised repository of career competencies and pathways, higher education resources and short courses, to help the NHS workforce develop a career in respiratory disease specialty and expand their clinical expertise.

Download Training Directory 


Working with partners our aim is to ensure workforce training that will support:

(1) Early and accurate diagnosis by supporting:

- Targeted expansion of quality assured spirometry training

- Diagnostic capacity and capability in primary care to improve respiratory disease diagnosis

- Research and piloting of artificial intelligence to interpret lung function tests

- Work investigating the evidence and implementation of Smart inhaler use.


(2) Medicines optimisation by:

- Supporting clinical pharmacy to review and optimise prescription and use of inhalers to optimise management


(3) Pulmonary Rehabilitation by supporting:

· RCP pulmonary rehabilitation accreditation

· increasing availability of pulmonary rehabilitation

· opportunities to test combined models of provision with cardiac rehabilitation.


(4) Self-management by supporting:

- Opportunities for diabetes-style education programmes for respiratory conditions.

- Opportunities for personalised care through Primary Care Network link workers

- Test and learn’ demonstrators for joint Cardiac/pulmonary rehabilitation models.

-    Developing the Respiratory Disease elearning programme  to provide an overview of respiratory care across the entire pathway and promote better patient care. It aims to provide all health and social care professionals and multidisciplinary teams with the appropriate level of knowledge, skills and experience they need to deliver effective respiratory disease prevention and care to people with respiratory disease, and those at risk of respiratory disease.

-    The programme contains the Respiratory Diseases Toolkit that provides learners with a comprehensive list of online resources that can be used to support workforce upskilling, training and development. The toolkit is a digital version of the Respiratory diseases training guide and addresses a national gap in a central portal for respiratory disease resources.

-    Producing the 'High Quality and Low Carbon Respiratory Care’ video. Inhalers are the mainstay of asthma and COPD treatment but they contribute around 3% of the entire carbon footprint of the NHS. You can watch this video below.

Respiratory disease affects one in five people in England and is the third biggest cause of death and is identified as a clinical priority in the NHS Long Term Plan. Therefore, it was felt important that NHSE and HEE programme teams and other stakeholders come together in a workshop and identify how as a national programme we can draw on available expertise to help shape the workforce agenda for respiratory disease. The aims are to understand current priorities for the respiratory disease workforce, the pressures, and challenges they face, suggest solutions to them and identify current barriers to achieving these ambitions and changes. 

This report provides an overview of the facilitated discussions from an organised workshop held on August 11th, 2022. Identifying what the collective short-medium and long-term actions need to be at all levels in addressing workforce challenges for respiratory disease aligned with emerging service priority and needs, including education and training. 

Download and read the full report.

Download and read the executive summary.