The Case for Greater Innovation in Respiratory from a Data Perspective

Respiratory disease covers a large, diverse range of mainly incurable conditions including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, bronchiectasis, cystic fibrosis and lung cancer.

Several other conditions cause restrictive lung disease: interstitial lung disease (including idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and sarcoidosis), obesity, as well as some neuromuscular diseases. Furthermore, treatment for upper and lower respiratory tract infections including, tonsillitis, sinusitis, influenza, bronchiolitis and tuberculosis require significant resource for both primary and secondary care. Pneumonia kills large numbers of people, including those with existing lung conditions.

Key Headlines

Overall, respiratory disease causes one in seven deaths (14%) in Wales.
In excess of 220,000 people are being treated for asthma and 68,840 for COPD.
  • It is estimated that the number of COPD patients in Wales, like the rest of the UK, is significantly under reported.
  • Multiple areas within the counties of Rhondda Cynon Taf, Merthyr Tydfil, Blaenau Gwent, Wrexham and Flintshire have a relative risk for COPD that is significantly higher than the UK average.
  • A higher percentage of patients in Wales are being treated for asthma (6.9%) than in other parts of the UK.
  • People living in areas of high deprivation are more likely to be receiving treatment for respiratory conditions than elsewhere in Wales.
  • Wales has a smoking prevalence of 19% and a prevalence of overweight and obese adults of 59%.
  • The total costs of all respiratory illness were estimated to be £165 billion including intangible costs. Excluding intangible costs proves an estimated total cost of £11.1 billion, representing 0.6% of UK GDP in 2014.
Unplanned hospital admissions

There are 49,000 unplanned hospital admissions each year for respiratory conditions in Wales with the majority being emergency admissions. The total cost of inpatient admissions in Wales in 2013/14 for just COPD and asthma amounted to over £250 million.

The total cost for prescribing for respiratory medicine in NHS Wales primary care from July 2013–June 2014 was £85.4 million. These costs relate to 5,531,434 items prescribed. Inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) alone cost £55.3 million followed by bronchodilators at £23.6 million.

Despite the above costs, the ratio of research funding to costs for respiratory disease compared to other diseases is disappointingly low. Only 1.68% of total UK research expenditure is allocated to the respiratory health category.


Finding ways to prevent respiratory disease, to manage and treat it more effectively, would bring about substantial benefits to health outcomes and concomitantly reduce a considerable economic burden. Additionally, focusing on economic development opportunities for those looking to innovate and develop novel and effective diagnostics, preventative devices, and better disease management strategies and treatments would make an impact.

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