Death rates from lung disease in the UK are about a third (32%) higher than a selection of other major EU nations,  as well as Australia, Canada and USA according to new research presented at the British Thoracic Society’s Winter Meeting today (Friday 8th December 2017.).

The researchers will tell delegates that although the UK, in common with all the other countries studied, has seen a general decline in death rates from lung disease since 1985 – a ‘significant gap’ still persists between the UK’s mortality levels and the rest.

The study, conducted by an international research team from Mount Auburn Hospital, Cambridge (USA), John Radcliffe Hospital Oxford, University College London & Imperial College London, compared UK death rates from lung disease between 1985-2013 with countries from EU15+1 This group of countries was chosen because they have similar or higher levels of national health expenditure to the UK. 

The British Thoracic Society has used the data to renew its call on the Government to ‘show leadership and get serious about tackling lung disease’ including ‘the need to urgently scope and deliver a national strategy to diagnose lung disease much earlier.’ 

 Other results from the study showed that:

  • There was a significant decrease in lung disease death rates in the UK between 1985 and 1991 among both men and women – with an estimated average percentage fall per year of 0.89% (men) and 1.70% (women)
  • Between 1994 and 2013 there was a steady decline in lung disease death rates in UK, with a more pronounced fall per year in men (2.06%) than women (0.85%)
  • For men in EU15+ countries the fall in the lung disease death rate has more than doubled in recent times - comparing 1985-1999 with 2000-2013
  • For women in EU15+ countries the lung disease death rate actually increased until 2002 (with an estimated average percentage increase of 1.48%) but then started falling at a rate of 0.44% a year on average

Justin Salciccioli lead researcher from Mount Auburn Hospital, Cambridge USA said:

“One of the starting points of our project was looking at previous studies that showed that death rates for obstructive lung diseases are much higher in UK than many other comparable countries. We wanted to see whether the UK faces a similar issue across all lung diseases. The short answer is – it does.

Our research showed that there was a significantly greater death rate from respiratory-related illnesses in UK compared with a selection of EU and other countries with similar or higher levels of national health expenditure and this difference persists over time. We are trying to understand whether factors such as smoking and pollution may account for this.  

We need to deliver further research to explain why this happening.”

Lung diseases range from lung cancer, pneumonia and TB to asthma, COPD and sleep apnoea.  Around 1 in 5 of UK population (12 million people) has received a diagnosis of lung disease in their lifetime and 550,000 are diagnosed every year. Lung disease kills 115,000 people every year in UK.   

Dr Lisa Davies, consultant respiratory physician at Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, and Chair of the British Thoracic Society’s Board of Trustees said:

‘Lung disease is the UK’s third biggest killer and costs the NHS billions to treat. At an international level, we must do better in reducing our death rates to at least the levels seen in those countries performing well.

We know that some of these other countries have greater Government commitment and national plans to tackle lung disease. Sadly, in England especially, the historic lack of a national plan with sufficient investment has really held uniform progress back.

To really drive things forward it is vital we have an overall NHS strategy to diagnose lung disease earlier when it is more treatable.

There have been similar effective initiatives for cancer. We need one for lung health. One simple activity within the strategy would be for the NHS Health Check, which reviews the health of 40-74 year olds for signs of heart disease and diabetes, to include a check on lung health.   This simple step could make a big difference.”    


For more information prior to the British Thoracic Society Winter Meeting (that is, before Wednesday 6thDecember 2017), please contact:

Rosie Strachan: t: 020 7831 8778 or 07566 223644

Charlotte Sutton: t: 07958 279240

Ed Gyde t: 020 7831 8778 or 07809 574801   

During the British Thoracic Society meeting (from Wednesday 6th to Friday 8th December 2017):

Please contact the BTS news media office on t: 020 7798 4801/ 020 7798 4541 or the mobile numbers above.

Note to Editors:
The British Thoracic Society is the UK’s professional body of respiratory specialists. The Society seeks to improve standards of care for people who have respiratory diseases and to support and develop those who provide that care.  A registered charity, it has over 3,400 members including doctors, nurses, respiratory physiotherapists, scientists and other professionals with a respiratory interest. For more information, go to


The British Thoracic Society Winter Meeting takes place from Wednesday 6th to Friday 8th December 2017 at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster, London.