August 18, 2008

How Met Office Could Help NHS to Save Millions

By Greg Tindle

A SIMPLE weather forecast has the potential to save the NHS millions of pounds following a pioneering trial for patients suffering from heart and lung diseases in the South Wales Valleys.

A warning from the Met Office that cold or hot weather is on the way - or an increase in pollution or humidity - has resulted in a 70% drop in hospital admissions for those with conditions such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema.

Health managers in Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr Tydfil have teamed up with the Met Office to provide the service which warns seriously ill patients that a major change in the weather is on the way.

The free scheme, a first in Wales, is aimed at helping patients suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) which can regularly see them admitted to hospital for up to two weeks when their condition gets out of control - costing the NHS at least pounds 120 a day.

Sufferers receive assistance through a phone call from the Met Office which informs them of local weather conditions for the following two weeks and whether they have enough medication such as steroids and inhalers to cope with any change which may affect their health.

This information is then passed by the Met Office to the patient's GP surgery and then analysed to decide on the best course of further treatment including whether the patient needs additional or different medication.

Health experts signed up to the Met Office project, which could now be used UK-wide, as lung and heart conditions are a particular problem in the Valleys. Last year, COPD was responsible for785 hospital admissions in RCT area alone - 7.5 % of all hospital admissions.

This is in comparison to the Wales average of 5.6%.

Martin Schesselman, 52, of John Street, Abercwmboi, an asthmatic who also suffers from COPD, said: "Any change in temperature will affect me, even a change in air pressure. Sometimes I can barely walk to the garden. With my problem I was in hospital 10 days every month last year to receive oxygen help.

"Since this system was introduced with the Met Office, I've only been admitted to hospital once which is fantastic as they make sure I know what the weather will be like and if I'm up to date with the amount of medication I need to stay at home. It's made a big improvement to my life and to keep me out of hospital has been a big relief."

Rebecca Edwards, of Rhondda Cynon Taf Local Health Board, said: "We are delighted to be able to work with the Met Office on this scheme."

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