PATIENTS with an incurable lung condition are having their lives threatened as over one in ten (11.5%) wait more than a decade for a diagnosis, a study has found.

Less than a fifth of those with Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which hits more than 130,000 people in Scotland, are receiving recommended levels of care.

Based on a survey of 607 Scots, the study reveals that the average wait for COPD diagnosis in Scotland is just over four years.

Experts say delays of over four years can result in people with the condition which causes severe breathlessness, losing lung function.

This leads to extreme breathlessness and difficulties performing everyday tasks like walking to the shops, housework, and socialising.

The study, carried out by Asthma + Lung UK Scotland warned that the late diagnosis means people are living with a "poorer quality of life and are much more likely to have life-threatening flare-ups of the disease".

Almost a third (30%) of Scots surveyed said they were unable to recognise the signs of COPD and over 1 in 10 (12%) said they were misdiagnosed as their doctor thought they had a chest infection or cough.

Other key problems included access to care, with more than 1 in 4 (27%) saying they couldn’t get an appointment and over 1 in 10 (15%) being unable to access diagnostic tests (including spirometry, a breathing test which is a key method of diagnosing COPD).

The analysis highlights significant health inequalities surrounding COPD, with poorer people more likely to have flare-ups, where they struggle to breathe, than their wealthier counterparts.

Someone from the most deprived 20% of households in Scotland is more than six times more likely to be admitted to hospital for COPD compared to someone from the least deprived 20% of households.

Joseph Carter, head of Asthma + Lung UK Scotland, said: “Across Scotland, far too many people are waiting in limbo for a diagnosis of COPD and access to treatment and support. There also needs to be a greater awareness of the condition and the signs and symptoms to look out for. We have heard from people struggling to breathe, who, because they are left unaware of their condition, aren’t getting the right treatment and support quick enough.


“To achieve this, we are calling on the Scottish Government to ensure everyone can access spirometry in their local area. Far too many surgeries stopped providing the vital diagnostic test during COVID and we need to get it back. We welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to the Respiratory Care Action Plan, but it is vital that health boards locally are able to fund spirometry testing and other basic services people with COPD need."

One woman who had to give up her job and use a mobility scooter after doctors took six years to diagnose her with a chronic lung condition has called for lung health to be taken more seriously.

Vivienne Gaynor, 60, from Edinburgh, took around six years to get a diagnosis with COPD.

"I developed asthma as an adult and was given inhalers. But when I was 45, my breathing changed, and I noticed that my inhalers were less effective, and I kept getting chest infections and was wheezy all the time," she said.

"Over the next six years, I lost count of the number of times I went to see my GP with a chest infection or trouble breathing, but all I was told was: It's just asthma or keep using the inhalers," she added.

Ms Gaynor said she struggled to get up the stairs and always felt tired. She said she we never given a formal diagnosis and was simply told to pick up an inhaler.

"There was no explanation and no support," she said.

"I swapped surgeries straightaway, and since then, the treatment I have received has been pretty good, and I realise I'm lucky for that.

"But it still makes me angry that I was so easily dismissed, and the impact of the delayed diagnosis meant that I had to give up the job I loved as a mental health advocate, and now have to use a mobility scooter to get around.

"Lung health isn't taken seriously enough, and nobody seems to understand what COPD is, and that it's a very chronic condition with no cure.

"If I had been suffering with cancer or a heart problem, I don't think I'd have had to wait so long for a diagnosis and would probably have received much more empathy and support."

The charity is calling for lung health to become an "urgent priority" ahead of World COPD Day on Tuesday.