IT IS a debilitating disease that can strike without warning.

In the UK an estimated three million people suffer from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) but less than a third are even aware that they have the potentially fatal condition.

So a team of experts from Southampton has launched into action with a new study that aims to revolutionise the way it is diagnosed in a bid to save more lives.

COPD is one of the most prevalent diseases in the city. Treatment costs are likely to be as much as £2.5m over the next three years.

It is hoped that the new pilot study at the University of Southampton will bring specialist breathing tests into GP surgeries rather than hospitals – getting the disease identified sooner rather than later.

The study will at first be taking place in GP surgeries in Totton to see how well it works, but if successful, it could be rolled out nationally, becoming normal practice.

Dr Tom Wilkinson, consultant and associate professor at the University of Southampton, who is leading the study with local GPs, said: “COPD is usually diagnosed when patients are experiencing symptoms which are affecting everyday life.

“By establishing diagnostic testing out in the community we can catch people earlier and improve outcomes, particularly by supporting people to stop smoking.

“We hope that this study will present a solution to a serious condition found in many communities in the UK. If the study goes well we hope that the evidence generated will lead to initiatives on a national scale before becoming normal practice.”

The study is run by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (NIHR CLAHRC) Wessex, a group of researchers from the University of Southampton and University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, the Wessex Academic Health Science Network and other local NHS partners.

Professor Jessica Corner, director of the NIHR CLAHRC Wessex, added: “This is an exciting and important opportunity that will enable us to continue that good work to drive our health services forward.”