Rural risk for sleep disorder Scots

By Eleanor Bradford
BBC Scotland Health Correspondent

media captionA man with sleep apnoea stops breathing as he is monitored in a hospital sleep clinic in Edinburgh

People in rural areas of Scotland are at risk of a common sleep disorder but may be going undiagnosed due to a lack of services, according to new research.

The British Lung Foundation has produced a map of the areas where the population is at highest risk of Obstructive sleep apnoea.

Those most likely to suffer from it live in the Highlands and Islands, Tayside and the south of Scotland.

The charity has warned specialist clinics are only in the central belt.

Obstructive sleep apnoea is a condition in which people continually stop breathing when muscle and soft tissues in the throat relax during sleep and block the airway.

'Mask to wear'

Rose Russell, who has hereditary sleep apnoea, said: "I was wakening myself up by gasping for breath.

"I went to a special clinic in Glasgow and they gave me a special machine with a mask to wear at night."

However, Rose has to have her machine checked at least once a year. Although there is a hospital just a 15 minute walk from her house in Oban, she has to spend 12 hours going to a clinic in Glasgow.

"I have to leave Oban at a quarter to eight in the morning to get the bus. My appointment might be 14:00 or 15:00.

"I am there for 15 minutes for them to check the machine and ask me a couple of questions and that is it. I have to wait for the bus at 18:15 to get back up the road."

Obstructive sleep apnoea affects up to 4% of the population, but the majority of cases are undiagnosed.

Despite the fact that Scotland has leading experts in the condition, services can be hard to access according to James Cant, head of the British Lung Foundation for Scotland.

"While we have really high rates of expected prevalence all around Scotland, rural areas are actually the highest," he said.

"But it is most difficult to get to sleep services there.

"People may well have sleep apnoea and not realise it. Then it is very difficult to access services which are close enough for them to get to."


The BLF's map was produced by combining known risk factors for Obstructive sleep apnoea - such as obesity, age and sex - with demographic information.

Sleep apnoea is a condition which is more common in people who are overweight but it can also occur in slim people due to the physiology of the throat.

image captionAround 4% of the population in Scotland suffers from the condition

Health boards are already under pressure to cut costs and improve standards by centralising services, but the British Lung Foundation says solutions can be found to provide better access for rural patients.

"There is an awful lot that can be done in sleep medicine at a local level," said Mr Cant. "There can be better partnerships with GPs and local district general hospitals."

Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary is in the process of setting up video links with a specialist clinic in Edinburgh and outlying health centres like Stranraer.

"We are reducing travelling time for patients and for staff," said Stuart Little, a chest consultant at NHS Dumfries and Galloway.

"At the moment patients still have to travel to the nearest hospital, but technology like Skype means that in the future patients could be seen at home using their own computers, providing we can make it secure."

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