An asthma and lung disease charity has warned GP practices are at risk of being overwhelmed and thousands of people could be admitted to hospital this winter due to a backlog of basic NHS care for patients.
Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation Scotland said many people with respiratory diseases have missed out on ongoing care during the pandemic as it raised concerns about a “difficult winter” ahead.
Using data from ISD Scotland, it estimates 120,000 Scots with lung conditions may have missed out on basic care, which is crucial to keeping them fit and out of hospital.
There are 80% more lung disease admissions in winter, with low temperatures, colds, flu and now Covid-19 able to cause potentially life-threatening flare-ups, it said.
The charity has called on the NHS to “urgently outline” plans to address the backlog of basic care, such as annual check-ups and face-to-face consultations.
It said GP practices should be fitted with digital tools for video and telephone consultations, and patients should be able to choose how they are seen.
A backlog of diagnostic tests should be addressed and the NHS should outline how primary care can identify, diagnose and treat people with new symptoms of respiratory illness, it added.
Joseph Carter, head of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation Scotland, said the pandemic is causing additional pressures for the NHS.
“We’ve outlined a road map to restoring basic care for respiratory patients across Scotland, made up of practical solutions for primary care and the support needed,” he said.
“It’s important that the Scottish Government acts quickly to address these concerns and I hope they’ll be forthcoming to give patients the reassurance they deserve.”
Dr Andy Whittamore, a practising GP and clinical lead for Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “The signs are pointing to a very difficult winter and it’s vital that people can access the care that they need to stay well.
“Prevention will play a crucial role in helping practices across the country manage seasonal pressures and support patients with lung conditions, including asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), avoid urgent care.
“Annual reviews, a mainstay of lung disease basic care, need to resume to pre-Covid levels.
“However, without guidance from Scottish Government, practices risk being overwhelmed by this backlog, unsure how to prioritise those most at risk.
“Practices will also be looking to the Scottish Government to give clarity around identifying, diagnosing and treating new presentations of respiratory illness this winter and how primary care professionals can work through the backlog of diagnostic tests for suspected respiratory conditions.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The NHS remains open with public health measures in place to protect staff and patients and we are working with clinical leaders to ensure people can access the right care in the right place, from the right healthcare professionals, this winter.
“We are committed to continuous improvement in the diagnosis, care, treatment and support of people living with respiratory conditions which is why we set out in our Programme for Government a Respiratory Action Plan to deliver these key priorities.”