PEOPLE with lung disease across Hounslow are campaigning for an end to the 'postcode lottery' they claim denies them access to life-changing care.
Breathe Easy Hounslow (BEH), a support group for the estimated 30,000 people in the borough with respiratory problems, was officially launched on Friday by national charity the British Lung Foundation (BLF).
As well as providing advice, information and support for people with breathing difficulties, the group plans to fight for wider access to pulmonary rehabilitation.
Hounslow is one of the few London boroughs not to offer the six-to-12-week exercise classes designed to help people cope with the condition, according to BEH chairman Bill Watson.
The 66-year-old grandfather of four, who lives in Powdermill Lane, Whitton, insisted the service should be available to everyone, no matter where they live.
He said: "NHS Hounslow [the body responsible for healthcare across the borough] says it can't afford to provide the service, but when you think about the cost of keeping a patient in hospital over the winter with a chest infection, it's far greater than that of pulmonary rehabilitation. "We will be looking to work with them to ensure this local postcode lottery is brought to an end."
Mr Watson, a former saxophonist with the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards band, had a lung transplant 14 years ago after being diagnosed with emphysema, and still suffers from breathing problems.
He recently finished a six-week pulmonary rehabilitation course at Teddington Memorial Hospital, which he said made a 'big difference' to his health.
According to the BLF, one in seven people across the UK is affected by some form of lung problem, from asthma to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is responsible for about 30,000 deaths a year.
Brentford & Isleworth MP Ann Keen, who attended last Friday's launch, said the group would play an invaluable role in helping residents with breathing difficulties.
A spokesman for NHS Hounslow said it did provide pulmonary rehabilitation for patients in the borough, at Charing Cross Hospital, but only when approved by its exceptional circumstances panel.
He added: "Decisions on funding of treatment are made on examining the clinical evidence of health benefit, in an equitable way in the interest of the whole population."