Construction workers to undergo breathing tests at city hospital

Construction workers at Southampton’s teaching hospitals will undergo breathing tests tomorrow (Thursday) in a bid to improve awareness of lung health in the industry.

Doctors and nurses from University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and Solent NHS Trust’s chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) team will conduct a series of health checks and offer advice from an on-site portacabin.

The makeshift “construction clinic” forms part of the team’s activities to highlight World COPD Day and promote the importance of lung health and early diagnosis.

The condition, which is known to affect more than 900,000 people over the age of 35, causes the airways in the lungs to become inflamed and narrowed and can lead to a range of breathing diseases including bronchitis and emphysema.

Across the UK, smoking is the leading cause of COPD, it is estimated around two million people remain undiagnosed and at risk of developing a more severe form of the disease as they get older.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, around 15% of COPD is likely to be work-related, with exposure to various dusts – including coal, grain and silica – and certain fumes and chemicals likely to contribute to the development of the condition.

Although there is no cure, lifestyle changes and various treatments can help patients manage their symptoms and prevent deterioration.

“Construction workers are more likely to be vulnerable to a variety of lung conditions due to the nature of their work and Southampton is one of the hotspots for COPD in the UK,” explained Carla Astles, a respiratory nurse specialist for the Wessex CLAHRC based at Southampton General Hospital.

“Generally, awareness of respiratory health is low and often people assume breathlessness is just a sign of getting older or they accept a continuing cough is just a sign of being a current or former smoker.”

Among the companies whose staff will be involved with the event are Reavey and Son Electrical, ARB Mechanical and Kier Construction, along with many other site subcontractors.

Participants will undertake a five-minute spirometry test to measure their lung capacity and complete a short questionnaire and, if the results raise concern, they will be given a letter to take to their GP for further investigation.

They will also be given an opportunity to talk to clinicians about the range of inhalers available and how to use them correctly, and discuss how lifestyle choices can affect respiratory health.

In addition, visitors will be offered advice on how to help stop smoking, with onward referral to Solent NHS Trust's Southampton Quitters team if they want to find out more.

Ms Astles, who is also an educator nurse for the Southampton City COPD integrated team, added: “It’s really important we take every opportunity to change the perception of “it’s too late” to “it’s okay to ask” as early intervention is key. 

“By encouraging these staff to come forward for testing and advice, we can help people to stay much fitter and healthier which, in turn, can reduce the potential for lost working days due to poor respiratory health.”

Posted on Wednesday 19 November 2014