Hospital deaths from the most common form of pneumonia dropped 14 percent between 2009 and 2015, according to new research published online in Thorax, the journal of the British Thoracic Society (BTS).
The UK study, undertaken by the Department of Respiratory Medicine, Nottingham University Hospital's NHS Trust and the BTS, analysed data from 23,315 UK hospital admissions for community acquired pneumonia (CAP) across six years.
The research showed that key elements of hospital care for CAP improved during this period and may have contributed to the fall in deaths, including an 11.5 percent rise in adults who received their first dose of antibiotics within four hours hospital admission.
A 3.7 percent increase in the proportion of adults who had a chest x-ray to help confirm the diagnosis within four hours admission was also recorded, as well as a 1.7 percent increase in the administration of appropriate antibiotics, in line with local guidelines, the study found.
"This fall in pneumonia deaths within 30 days of admission to hospital is very encouraging and suggests that local NHS hospitals have put in place measures to improve diagnosis, treatment and care," said Professor Wei Shen Lim, consultant respiratory specialist at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust and BTS member. "We hope that improvements continue to be made and that the new 'Quality Standard' from NICE accelerates this process".
Pneumonia is the sixth biggest cause of death in the UK, killing 29,000 people a year, with deaths mainly occurring in older people and children & babies under 10 years.
Despite the improvement revealed by the research, the CAP death rate in the UK from pneumonia is the third highest in Europe, and the researchers also found variation across the country, highlighting the potential for further improvement.
"There are a number of simple steps that hospitals can take to reduce the death toll. These include patients with suspected community acquired pneumonia receiving an x-ray and diagnosis within four hours of admission, a mortality risk assessment being taken on diagnosis, and antibiotic therapy started within four hours of admission," said Prof Wei.
"Looking wider, we also need a systematic approach in the community to prevent pneumonia happening in the first place and help speed up diagnosis," noted Dr Lisa Davies, consultant respiratory physician, University Hospital Aintree NHS Foundation Trust, Liverpool and Chair of the BTS Board.
"This should involve patient education for at risk groups about the need to tackle winter illnesses early before they escalate, targeted vaccination, and national guidance being implemented in the community on the first steps to diagnosing the disease."