Healthcare and social costs related to air pollution could reach 5.3 billion by 2035 without further action, the governments health body, Public Health England, has claimed.
Research published yesterday (22 May), funded by Public Health England (PHE) and carried out in collaboration with the UK Health Forum and Imperial College London, has suggested that in the last year alone, the costs of air pollution to the NHS and social care in England were estimated to be 157 million.
The researchers claim that these figures are based on costs related to GP visits, medical prescriptions, hospital treatment and social care due to long-term health conditions, and do not take into account economic impacts due to lost productivity.
According to PHE, there could be around 2.5 million new cases of coronary heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, childhood asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, low birth weight, and dementia by 2035 if current air pollution levels persist.
The project has also seen the development of a statistical tool to calculate the health and social car cost in local authority areas to demonstrate the cost borne to communities by air pollution.
Using computer models to simulate the long-term health impacts of chronic disease and effects of air pollution, the researchers claim to have demonstrated that relatively small reductions in the populations exposure to PM2.5 and NO2 could lead to a significant reduction in costs.
Modelling was carried out at the national level and for two local authorities, the London borough of Lambeth and South Lakeland in Cumbria, which represent areas with respectively high and low levels of PM2.5 and NO2.
According to the researchers simulations, a 1g/m3 reduction in PM2.5 over a year in Lambeth, relative to the 2015 baseline, could potentially avoid 153 new cases of disease per 100,000 people and save 720,000 per 100,000 people in NHS and social care costs.
A 1g/m3 reduction in NO2 over a year in the same area, could potentially avoid 28 new cases of disease per 100,000 people and save 15,000 per 100,000 people in NHS and social care costs.
The hope is that all local authorities will be able to use the tool to estimate the impact on health and the savings to the NHS and social care under different air pollution scenarios.
Dr Daniela Fecht, from the School of Public Health and principal investigator at Imperial, said: These findings highlight the severity of the threat air pollution poses to public health and our health care system.
We have known for decades that exposure to high levels of pollutants in the air can damage the respiratory system, but increasingly the evidence is showing the long-term risks to our cardiovascular health from chronic exposure to small particles in the air, even at low levels previously thought to be safe.
Health conditions associated with air pollution exposure will put further strain on the already overstretched health care system in the future if no immediate action is taken.
Professor Paul Cosford, Medical Director and Director of Health Protection at PHE, said: Air pollution is a growing threat to the publics health, evidence shows it has a strong causal association with coronary heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and childhood asthma.
PHE has created a new air pollution tool so, for the first time, local authorities can calculate the cost of air pollution, providing impetus to act to improve air quality.
Air pollution: a tool to estimate healthcare costs