Introduction Our specialist service manages patients with vocal cord dysfunction (VCD), chronic cough (CC) and dysfunctional breathing (DB), and referrals have grown exponentially since we introduced this novel multi-disciplinary (MDT) model in 2006. The team comprises two severe asthma specialist physicians, two respiratory speech and language therapists (rSLT), a severe asthma nurse specialist, respiratory physiotherapist and clinical psychologist.
Aims To describe the clinical characteristics of those referred and assess utilisation of the multi-disciplinary structure.
Methods Patient demographics and clinical data were retrospectively collated from clinical records of patients referred between January and December 2014.
Results The service received 249 referrals. Excluding patients still in treatment or who failed to attend initial assessment, 141 complete data sets were available for analysis: 71% female; mean (range) age 55 (18–79) years. Assessment requests were for VCD (71%), CC (28%) or both (1%) and over half were from NW severe asthma centres or extra-regional specialist centres. The majority of referrals were from hospital consultants (72%), with the remainder from GPs (17%) and AHPs (11%). For VCD there was 73% agreement between the clinical suspicion on referral and nasendoscopic assessment. Approximately half had evidence of co-existent reflux (52%) and a third (29%) had nasal disease.
The majority were seen by more than one member of the MDT team; all by a specialist physician and a rSLT, 43% by respiratory physiotherapy, and 7% clinical psychology.
In the VCD cohort 64% had a previous asthma diagnosis and this was confirmed in the majority (93%) – 49(82%) were ≥Step 3 on BTS/SIGN guidelines; 43% were additionally referred for DB assessment; 78 flow volume loops were available and 31 (40%) were suggestive of extra thoracic inspiratory airway obstruction.
Sixty-seven patients (48%) received rSLT management [median (range) 4(1–8) sessions] with a further 16(11%) scheduled to receive it post medical intervention. Of those who completed treatment, 63% had clinically improved presentation on discharge nasendoscopy.
Conclusions A large proportion of patients referred to a specialist service for patients with complex breathlessness require multi-disciplinary intervention. There is a significant incidence of VCD and DB in patients with severe complex asthma. Of those receiving rSLT interventions, outcome was extremely effective at reducing symptoms.
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