Two Oldham GPs have spoken out after new figures showed Oldhamers were more likely to die from respiratory illnesses than the rest of England in 2021.

Oldham ranked 17th in England for deaths from lung conditions and 28th across the UK as a whole, according to new analysis by the charity Asthma + Lung UK.

Thousands of people die from lung conditions every year – such as flu, pneumonia and lung disease – and the new analysis lays bare the inequality in deaths between different areas of the UK.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show there were 128 deaths from respiratory illness for every 100,000 people in Oldham – meaning the area has more than the rate of 94 deaths per 100,000 for England as a whole.

These figures have been standardised to account for age differences across different areas.

Across the UK, four of the 10 worst places for respiratory deaths are in the North West of England – with Knowsley in Merseyside topping the list, with 178 deaths per 100,000 people.

Smoking 'a leading cause'

Dr Mark Wilshere, GP partner at Quayside Medical Practice in Failsworth, said: “It is tragic that our local population is more at risk of dying from respiratory-related illness but unfortunately this is not anything new.

The Oldham Times: Dr Mark WilshereDr Mark Wilshere

“While this is likely to be multifactorial, the easiest solution is to address the disproportionately high number of smokers in our region.

“Smoking is a leading cause of respiratory illness, from COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) to recurrent respiratory infections and lung cancer.”

Separate figures, also from the ONS, show 19.3 per cent of adults in Oldham are smokers – higher than the UK average of 13.3 per cent.

Dr Wilshere added: “All these conditions put people at risk of harm, poor health, and premature death.

“Shisha smoking is often thought of being less harmful but sadly it isn’t.

"During a Shisha session, over 100 cigarette equivalents can be consumed which is extremely bad for your health, but I do not think most people realise just how bad.

"This is highly likely contributing to part of the problem we see, locally and nationally.

“At Quayside Medical Practice, we have invited every smoker and ex-smoker over age 40 to attend one of our respiratory clinics to assess their lung health, with breathing tests and smoking cessation advice and support.

“This has been a huge success and we are hoping to continue this work and build upon it moving forwards.

“Detecting conditions like COPD early is critical to preventing poor long-term health and complications, including premature death.”

'Higher in disadvantaged groups'

Oldham GP Dr Anita Sharma, said: “There are a number of reasons why people contract respiratory illnesses, ranging from a genetic disposition to the continuing impact of COVID, which has not miraculously gone away.

The Oldham Times: Dr Anita SharmaDr Anita Sharma (Image: Newsquest)

“Respiratory disease affects one in five people and is the third biggest cause of death in England after cancer and cardiovascular disease.

“Hospital admissions for lung disease have risen over the past seven years at three times the rate of all admissions generally.

“Incidence and mortality rates from respiratory disease are higher in disadvantaged groups and areas of social deprivation.

“The most deprived communities have higher smoking rates, experience higher levels of air pollution, poor housing and exposure to occupational hazards which are causing a big increase in asthma, COPD and pneumonia.

“Data from British Lung Foundation explains the strong links between lung disease, deprivation and health inequalities.

“So, tackling health inequalities is a UK government and NHS England priority, and the need for a respiratory taskforce to drive improvements is overwhelming.”

Charity calls on government to tackle 'appalling' situation

Asthma + Lung UK said the government must address the 'stark inequality' in lung health across the UK.

Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of the charity, said: “It’s appalling that people across the UK are struggling to breathe, are being rushed to hospital in an emergency and that so many are dying avoidably from their lung conditions.”

She continued: "We know that people in more deprived areas are more likely to have worse lung health, often with no choice but to live in poorer quality housing, more polluted areas with higher smoking rates."

"We need to tackle the lung healhth lottery head on," Ms Woolnough urged.

Government responds

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are working hard to improve lung health across the country – including by investing millions in research and backing the NHS’s targeted lung health checks programme, which aims to detect conditions including lung cancer earlier and faster.

“We’ve set ambitious clean air targets to reduce the health impacts of air pollution – ensuring reductions are made where concentrations are highest – and we’re committed to delivering on our Smokefree ambition by 2030, with smoking rates in England currently at an all-time low.”

“Chronic respiratory diseases forms a significant part of our Major Conditions Strategy, which covers the six different conditions that most affect the population in England and aims to alleviate pressure on the health system and support people to live healthier lives for longer, wherever they live,” they added.