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Helping patients breathe more easily

22 August 2013

Health Care

Breathing is such a natural function that most of us never pay it any attention. But, for those experiencing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), taking in air is a massive, exhausting and distressing effort.

COPD is a progressive and deteriorating condition which frequently leaves individuals feeling anxious, panicky and depressed and causes distress to those around them.

Recognising these effects prompted Southend University Hospital to recruit the services of clinical psychologist Dr Hannah Osborne, who said: "Doctors look after the medical side of the condition but until now there has never been any help with the emotional side. Yet the two go hand in hand."

Since coming to the hospital in January, Dr Osborne and her colleagues have

  • Developed self-help manuals for COPD patients to help them manage their mood and anxiety
  • Trained ward and community staff to recognise and manage emotional problems in COPD patients
  • Introduced a 'Breathe Well, Live Well' course which offers cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and runs for six weeks, covering areas such as acceptance, low mood, anxiety, activity and coping
  • Developed a range of therapy services on both a one-to-one and group basis, which are provided in the home as well as in the hospital and community venues

Dr Osborne said: "Research shows that people with COPD often have depression and anxiety which frequently goes untreated and unrecognised.

"COPD can affect their whole lifestyle. The natural response to fighting for breath is panic, which triggers adrenalin and in turn can make the patient more breathless. That can be very scary and disabling and often makes patients feel their COPD is worsening - when, in fact, they are panic symptoms.  

"When patients are unable to be as active and involved as they once were, they can lose a lot of self-esteem and confidence, and their role in the family can change.  As a result, COPD can be very difficult to adjust to and can lead to increasing feelings of frustration.

"A lot of the support we offer is designed to help patients manage the condition and have the motivation and confidence to do so. They need to know COPD is not a life sentence."

Dr Osborne and her team have worked with patients both in hospital and at home, and with their families and, so far, results have been very impressive with marked changes in anxiety, mood, confidence and breathlessness - and a subsequent reduction in hospital admissions.

"The philosophy of the service is to help people with COPD continue to have a meaningful life and do the things which are important to them."


With pic: l to r Catherine Deeming, respiratory nurse specialist (community); Amanda Mount, assistant psychologist specialising in COPD, Natasha Bennett, trainee clinical psychologist, Dr Hannah Osborne, principal clinical psychologist Mary Monaghan, asthma/COPD CNS