Plans to transform the care, quality of life and health outcomes for people in England with respiratory diseases have been unveiled by the government.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is thought to affect more than three million people in England, and over five million are currently receiving treatment for asthma. The UK has the second-highest death rate from both conditions in Europe, costing the NHS more than £2 billion a year - but, if it was performing at the European Union (EU) average, over 2,000 extra lives a year would be saved, according to the Department of Health.

Moreover, if all parts of the nation could reduce death rates to those of the areas with the lowest death rates, up to 8,000 lives a year could be saved from COPD alone, it adds.

Currently, a lack of recognition of symptoms leads to late diagnosis and poor outcomes. One in eight adults in the UK aged over 35 has COPD that has not been diagnosed and the disease is the UK's fifth biggest killer, while respiratory diseases account for 12% of all hospital emergency admissions.

The new Outcomes Strategy for COPD and Asthma will drive improvements in outcomes for patients through a new REACT approach, which will coordinate the efforts of the NHS, patients, social care and voluntary organizations, says the government.

REACT stands for: - Respiratory health and good lung health; - Early accurate diagnosis; - Active partnership between healthcare professionals and people with COPD/asthma;- Chronic disease management and good control of symptoms;  and - Targeted evidence-based treatment for the individual.

Everyone affected by COPD and asthma can also expect to have a care planning discussion with their healthcare professional. This will allow individuals to personalise their care and plan their lung health on an ongoing basis so that they can identify any problems and seek help before their symptoms worsen, says the Department.

"Once implemented, this Outcomes Strategy will help to improve awareness of good lung health, reduce the number of people with respiratory disease and improve the quality of life for those diagnosed. This will reduce the number of deaths by focusing on better prevention, earlier diagnosis and excellent care and management of COPD and asthma," said Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.

"This is just the start in helping fundamentally to reduce the burden of respiratory disease and transform for the better the health outcomes and quality of life for millions of people," he added.

The new Outcomes Strategy was welcomed by Dame Helena Shovelton, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, although she warned that "in order to have a real impact, we need to see this strategy put into action across the country."

Neil Churchill, chief executive of Asthma UK, pointed out that every seven minutes, someone with asthma is admitted to hospital, and the condition costs the NHS more than £1 billion every year.

He added that the NHS “has set some challenging outcomes to reduce asthma deaths and emergency hospital admissions and this renewed clinical leadership is timely and important. We hope to see the quality standard on asthma becoming a real benchmark of high-quality care, based on all the evidence, which should help to reduce the current unwarranted variation in asthma outcomes across the country." 

- The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) will publish a Quality Standard on COPD shortly and will be developing a new Quality Standard for asthma. It will also look at new indicators for the quality framework that GPs work to.