BOSSES at a major health body have come under fire for axing a series of support groups for residents battling severe lung conditions – with distraught campaigners warning the move would be a ‘death sentence’ for sufferers.
Three exercise groups for people with chronic lung conditions in the city are being scrapped this week by Portsmouth Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), with the first – based at the Buckland Community Centre - having shut yesterday and the other two, in Paulsgrove and Eastney, closing tomorrow.
The decision will affect about 150 seriously-ill people from across the Portsmouth area and has sparked concerns from doctors that it could pile more pressure on medics at Queen Alexandra Hospital, which could be left to pick up the pieces.
The classes, known as pulmonary rehabilitation maintenance, helped people with conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to keep a level of fitness to cope with everyday tasks like walking to the shops or up the stairs, which can often be an exhaustive struggle for sufferers.
Users have now been left ‘frightened’ and angry at the decision to scrap the current service, which has been running for more than a decade.
Eric Compton, patient representative for COPD in south-east Hampshire and chairman of Breathe Easy Portsmouth group, was furious at the move.
He said: ‘This is condemning people to death. They’re taking away a service that is vital to so many people in the city.
‘People are now frightened and scared. They don’t know what is going to happen to them.
‘It’s absolutely disgraceful what has happened.’
People were invited to join the maintenance groups after having taken initial rehabilitation courses.
The groups provide tailor-made exercise routines for those with severe breathing difficulties.
Under the new arrangement proposed by the CCG, sufferers will undergo a rehabilitation course before being offered 12-weeks of maintenance.
Then the burden would be on them to attend exercise classes run at leisure sites like the Mountbatten Centre.
Furious Reg Haim has been using the maintenance club in Paulsgrove for 12 years and said it was vital in his battle against his crippling lung conditions.
The 69-year-old, who suffers with a range of conditions including COPD, was angered by the new set up. He said: ‘Them taking this away from us is disgusting. We don’t know what to do.’
COPD sufferer Phill Hallam, 67, of has been using the group in Paulsgrove for about a decade. He added: ‘This is incredibly frustrating. Without this group I could end up in hospital in six to 10 weeks.’
Doctor Ben Green, who specialises in respiratory medicine at Queen Alexandra, said QA staff could be forced to step in and help treat those whose health declines.
‘There is a risk we could see more people in hospital if people decondition and become unfit,’ he said during a meeting with Portsmouth Breathe Easy. ‘This will put pressure on services. Unfortunately there’s nothing the hospital can do about that. We lost the contract to supply the service over 10 years ago.’
Mr Compton said he will write to Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt. The health campaigner also challenged the CCG to meet with his group to discuss the situation.