SPECIALIST staff at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust are at the forefront of raising awareness and of work to help sufferers of a progressive lung disease, known as a silent killer.

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a disease which has no cure, hit the headlines after claiming the life of television star Keith Chegwin and after Katie Price's mum Amy was diagnosed.

The disease affects about 8,700 new people nationally every year and once diagnosed a patient has a limited life expectancy.

Common symptoms include shortness of breath, a dry cough, unexplained weight loss, aching muscles and joints, and widening and rounding of the tips of the fingers and toes.

Clinical nurse specialists from the trust, which runs Worcestershire Royal Hospital, are among the leading researchers of the condition. Their work involves looking at whether it is linked to people in certain jobs, or if is a hereditary disease, and also carrying out clinical trials to help sufferers.

A support group has also been launched, being held at the Link Room of St Matthias Church, Malvern, on the first Tuesday of every month between 1.30pm and 3pm.

Alison Durie, a respiratory research nurse, said: "There is hope.

"It requires publicity - the more people we can get involved in clinical trials, the more research we have to go on."

The aim is to improve the rates of diagnosis, treatment and life expectancy of those with the condition.

Respiratory nurse specialist Nancy Howard said: "We need to raise awareness so that people don't get looked at blankly when they tell their relatives they have IBF.

"The support group had initial funding from the Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis charity. In the Malvern group there are 20, they have all got pulmonary fibrosis. We have speakers to give talks, and a raffle raises money to fund the room.

"The problem is isolation. People with lung cancer have groups and support from charities.

"And yet these patients their symptoms are worse - they aren't able to go out without huge supplies of oxygen. They become quite socially isolated."

For more details on IBF visit actionpulmonaryfibrosis.org, or blf.org.uk/PF.