The Faculty of Public Health Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland calls for due recognition for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

To coincide with National Lung Health week, the Faculty of Public Health Medicine of Ireland calls for the recognition and prioritisation of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) as a national health issue.

Dr Máire O’Connor, Specialist in Public Health Medicine and spokesperson on COPD for the Faculty has spoken out following the publication of a new position paper aimed at highlighting the disease, which is now the third most common cause of acute hospital admission of adults in Ireland.

Download the Faculty of Public Health Medicine's position paper on COPD

“Respiratory diseases are amongst the top three causes of mortality in Ireland. It is crucial that there is immediate action taken to recognise and prioritise the condition. In the case of the top two causes of mortality, cardio-vascular disease and cancer, a Government commitment and national strategic approach has contributed to a significant improvement in mortality rates and quality of care over the past number of years. The same commitment is required to achieve such improvements for respiratory diseases, the most prevalent of which is COPD,” says Dr O’Connor.

“Ireland has one of the highest age-related death rates from COPD in Europe and there has been little change in recent years.”

“COPD is a major burden on patients, their families, the health services and society as a whole but here in Ireland we are lagging behind the rest of Europe in addressing a disease that is both preventable and treatable. Compared with its European neighbours, Ireland has a high rate of hospital admissions for COPD. In 2011, Ireland had the highest rate of hospitalisations within the OECD,” she says.

“Yet despite this very high prevalence, there remains a distinct lack of awareness of the disease and its significance among the public and health professionals. A lack of awareness results in delayed diagnosis and delayed effective interventions.”

“In addition, COPD is linked with social inequality in Ireland with major differences in mortality between social classes. The death rates in the lower social classes is over 3 times (300%) the rate of those of higher social classes.”

While tobacco smoking is the key risk factor for the development of COPD, 15% of patients are non-smokers and many are ex-smokers. The perception that COPD is exclusively a smoker’s disease is inaccurate and can act to prevent patients from getting appropriately resourced care and rehabilitation.

The Faculty of Public Health Medicine’s position paper on COPD highlights a number of areas for action, to reduce the burden of COPD in Ireland. These include:

  • Recognition of COPD as a national issue which should be reflected both in national health statistics and national health priorities.
  • Strengthened advocacy for COPD and empowerment of patients and carers. 
  • Addressing smoking as a key risk factor for COPD.
  • Delivery of evidence-based quality COPD care to ensure a quality approach for all people with COPD in line with the National Clinical Programme for COPD.

Prof Tim McDonnell, Clinical Lead for the National COPD Programme welcomed the publication, “I welcome this position paper by the Faculty of Public Health Medicine. COPD is a significant public health problem in Ireland and the Faculty have a key role in ensuring it is addressed.”

For more information, please contact

Yvonne McCahill, Media Executive, Royal College of Physicians of Ireland

085 8502005

Notes to Editor

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) was previously called a number of different names including chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive airways disease. It obstructs the airways, making breathing difficult. This airflow obstruction is usually progressive and only partially reversible so that people have difficulty breathing. Symptoms of include shortness of breath, cough and sputum (phlegm) production.

The National Clinical Programme for COPD is run by the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in conjunction with the HSE. It brings together experts in various areas of medicine, relevant to the care of patients with COPD.

The programme aims to improve and standardize the quality of care of patients with COPD through the bringing together of clinical expertise and the best use of resources.