New hope for patients with severe lung disease

Wednesday 7 September 2016

The Lane Fox Respiratory Unit at St Thomas' Hospital

Patients suffering from severe lung disease could see their lives transformed thanks to a ‘game-changing’ clinical trial carried out by UK experts and led by the team from the Lane Fox Respiratory Service based at St Thomas’ Hospital in London.

The results of the trial were revealed at the European Respiratory Society’s International Congress 2016, held at the ExCel centre.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is one of the world’s biggest killers, but the addition of a home ventilator to oxygen treatment is reducing admissions to hospital as well as maintaining patients’ quality of life.

In the UK alone, approximately 30,000 people die from COPD every year. Roughly one million people have been diagnosed with the condition with another two million undiagnosed, according to the British Lung Foundation.

The HOT-HMV trial (Home Oxygen Therapy-Home Mechanical Ventilation) – which involved giving selected patients a breathing machine to be used in their home in addition to oxygen therapy – was found to reduce readmissions to hospital following an acute infection.

Respiratory experts Professor Nicholas Hart and Dr Patrick Murphy, who co-ordinated the UK-wide trial from St Thomas’ Hospital, say the trial results could pave the way for a complete change in the way that the most severely affected COPD patients across the world are treated.

Professor Hart explains: “The only current treatment we have to give these patients is oxygen therapy, but now we can give them oxygen as well as a ventilator in their home. We have managed to reduce the likelihood of readmission to hospital by almost 50%. 

“In the trial we used a home ventilator that co-ordinates itself with the individual patient’s breathing. The mask ventilator machine works by blowing in air and oxygen to keep oxygen levels high and carbon dioxide, the waste gas, low.”

The trial was carried out thanks to funding and equipment from manufacturers Philips Respironics and ResMed, and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity.

Ronnie Ward, 74, from Brighton, has suffered from COPD for five years and uses his home ventilator every night, to support his breathing. Since being recruited for the trial, he and his wife Julie, 55, have had to make far fewer trips to hospital.

“Ronnie was in and out of hospital, sometimes spending weeks and months on the wards. Coming back and forth and spending so much time in hospital was stressful and very demoralising,” says Julie.

“We were finding that just weeks after he’d been discharged from hospital, Ronnie would need to be readmitted because he was struggling to breathe again. Using the breathing machine every night has taken a lot of pressure off us.”

Meanwhile, the trial follow-up will continue, as patients are monitored for survival rates over the next three and five years.

“These results are extremely promising but the work will continue. So far we have found that patients using home oxygen with a home ventilator device are two-thirds less likely to be readmitted within 28 days,” says Professor Hart.

“This is very important because not only does it maintain a patient’s quality of life but also it significantly reduces pressures on NHS budgets. At Guy’s and St Thomas’ around 1,000 patients are admitted each year with COPD. If we can keep them comfortable at home for longer, this will have a big impact."

Last updated: March 2022

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