Local people living with long term chest conditions are some of the most vulnerable among us to COVID-19. Many people with respiratory conditions have had no choice but to shield and cut off contact with the outside world completely since early March.
Now more than ever, they need support to manage their condition and keep well through COVID. We are Still Caring through COVID, delivering this much needed support. However, we can’t do it all alone. That is why, this week, we presented to the All Party Group on Lung Health with representatives from across Northern Ireland to appeal to the Stormont Executive to help us continue to be there for people with serious respiratory conditions through the pandemic and beyond.
What are we asking from MLAs?
1. For financial support to continue our Breathing Better Service
Our Breathing Better groups are for people living with long term chest conditions and they provide a safe space for them to connect with others living with similar respiratory condition, share experiences and get support. The Group also helps them to exercise safely and learn self-management skills to help them manage their condition each day and improve their overall quality of life. The service is delivered jointly by NICHS and local Health and Social Care Trust teams around Northern Ireland.
We have been continuing to care through COVID for our Breathing Better groups via support phone calls, postal support and online Zoom meetings.
However, COVID-19 and the suspension of face-to-face services has hugely affected our ability to provide face to face services and support to help exercise, which is so important to improving and maintaining lung health and overall wellbeing in the long term for people with chest conditions.
Nearly 90% of our services are funded through public donations, including our Breathing Better service, which receives no funding from the Government. Along with a steep fall in donations to our work this year as a result of COVID-19, these vital services are under threat.
It’s clear that our Breathing Better service has a huge positive impact for participants, as well as for wider society in Northern Ireland as we estimate the £250,000 we invest in the service each year leads to a saving of £750,000 for the health service.
2. To help us continue to support patients– by supporting us to create Maintenance Videos on DVD
To solve the lack of face to face services and make sure we are still caring through COVID for the physical health of people with chest conditions, we have created a series of videos aimed at people living with respiratory conditions to help individuals maintain their fitness, strength and overall well-being from the comfort of their home. These are a continuation of Pulmonary Rehabilitation delivered by the Trust Respiratory Team , which we are developing collaboratively with local Health and Social Care teams across Northern Ireland.
These videos will not only be available online, but also on DVD to make sure that individuals who don’t have access to the internet or the required technology can still benefit from Breathing Better, ensuring no one is left behind.
Watch this space as we will officially be launching these videos over the next few weeks, because we believe passionately that no one gets left behind as we continue to care through COVID.
3. For MLA’s to help us promote and raise the profile of our work
We can’t make a difference unless we can reach the people who need us, and we are also asking politicians and other stakeholders to help us do this using their influence and networks to make sure that local people can access our services like Breathing Better easily when they need them, for example by helping us make sure that medical professionals know about the service so that when people are diagnosed with a chest condition, it’s easy and seamless for them to get the information they need and to be referred from the healthcare system to NICHS. Currently only 15% of all referrals to the Breathing Better Service come via a GP Practice
Now more than ever, we need support to help us keep being there for the people who need us most during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we call on local MLA’s to help us make this happen. We need them to help ensure that funding for Breathing Better is financially stable - currently we cover 100% of the cost. This is not satisfactory and given the impact of COVID-19, it is simply unsustainable. Our Breathing Better service makes a huge and real difference to the lives and health of participants, and it is vital that this programme continues.
Six months ago, if anyone had said to me that today I would be going to the gym, eating sensibly and taking care of myself, I would have laughed, but here I am, proof that you are never too old to learn. Who would have thought such a transformation was possible? Certainly not me.
There are so many ways to help us keeping caring through COVID - whether it's by sharing your story so we can help raise awareness of what’s important, or through a simple donation. For more information on our work and how we’re still caring through COVID, click here.
Our All Party Group and Lobbying Work
Lobbying is a big part of what we do to lead the fight against chest, heart and stroke conditions locally. Lobbying involves working to influence the decision makers within the healthcare system and Government in Northern Ireland to make changes to the laws and policies that will help prevent chest, heart and stroke illness and care for people living with these conditions. We do this by listening to real local people to find out about their concerns and what changes they need and want to see, as well as using powerful evidence to prove what is needed here to improve lives and health.
Through our All Party Group, we work to achieve this by bringing together these key decision makers from various political parties and Government departments, along with experts from the healthcare sector and a variety of organisations and charities who have a stake in local chest, heart and stroke health and care.