Leading healthcare organisations have called for a major overhaul of legislation relating to air quality, including tougher standards to limit pollutants.
The call comes in a joint report issued today (29 October) by the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC), Royal College of Nursing, the British Medical Association, Faculty for Public Health, BMJ and The Lancet demanding a new Clean Air Act to protect public health.
This, the groups claim, should include legally enforced air quality standards, governed by an independent statutory body to ensure ‘consistently cleaner air across the UK’, and the creation of an advisory group to advise government on air pollution, in the mould of the Committee on Climate Change.
New air quality standards should be in line with those set out by the World Health Organization, the group notes.
Other recommendations included within the report include further work to facilitate Clean Air Zones in towns and cities, as well as bringing forward the government’s target to end the sale of conventional petrol and diesel only cars from 2040 to 2030.
Government should also implement an ‘active travel scheme’ to support businesses and households in adopting shared and active transport options, which would include discounts on car club schemes and increased access to cycling, the report suggests.
An ‘NHS Clean Air Fund’ should be created to support the adoption of low and zero tailpipe emission vehicles for the NHS and to support in the rollout of electric vehicles charging infrastructure, the groups added.
Laurie Laybourn-Langton, director of the UKHACC, said: “The UK’s dirty air crisis has gone on too long, inflicting a large cost on our health, with children particularly vulnerable. To date, the government’s response has been too slow and lacked ambition.
“Today, UK health professionals have set out a policy agenda that is sufficient to deal with the scale of the problem, ensuring health is protected and air pollution levels are rapidly reduced, with support being given to those on the front line, including councils and the NHS.
“Crucially, the actions needed to reduce air pollution are also those that improve our health anyway, including through helping more people cycle and walk instead of using cars.”
Professor Jonathan Grigg, of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said: “Air pollution is an invisible killer in adults, and in children its invisible toxins get into their bodies through the lungs, stunting lung growth, causing asthma, and adversely influencing other organs. More than 4.5m children living in the UK are affected by toxic levels of air pollution and it is a disgrace that, in 2018, parents and guardians have to worry about their children’s exposure when playing outside or walking to school.
“Everybody has a role to play when it comes to protecting children from air pollution and the recommendations within this report provide a clear framework for this. In particular, the government, employers and schools must encourage and facilitate better use of public transport and active travel options like walking, scooting and cycling to school. Cycle networks must be expanded and spaces away from traffic developed so children and their parents can choose active travel over their car without risking increased exposure to pollution to their children.”
Moving beyond the air quality crisis