NHS and air pollution crisis this winter

The NHS is under ‘severe pressure’ this winter as hospitals face an increase in air pollution-related respiratory admissions.

A group of 175 doctors and health professionals have published a letter in the Times today (18 December), urging the Prime Minister to commit to cutting air pollution levels to match World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines and to increase funding to the NHS.

The group cited official NHS statics, which revealed that A&E departments are facing an increase in patients attending with respiratory conditions, with nearly one third (30%) of attendees aged one and under suffering with bronchitis.

The professionals also referenced research from King’s College London which highlighted the link between increased pollution and respiratory problems, specifically that living near a busy road can increase the risk of asthma and bronchitis in children by up to 11.5%.

A situation that, according to DEFRA data, is exacerbated in the winter due to increased air pollution which has seen levels of particular matter peak during the winter months over the last three decades.

Dr Rob Hughes, a former consultant in public health and senior fellow at the Clean Air Fund, said: ‘The NHS is under unsustainable pressure.

‘As well as properly funding the NHS, it’s critical that the new Government addresses the root causes of this crisis, including clearing the toxic air which is sending so many people to already busy Emergency Departments and GP surgeries.

‘A new Clean Air Act which adopts the World Health Organisation’s recommended limits for pollution would be a good start.’

Dr Aarti Basnal, a GP in Sheffield said: ‘I have been shocked at how much severe asthma I am seeing in our patients in an area of documented high air pollution.

‘Acting on poisonous air will save lives now, reduce health inequalities and mitigate the impact of the climate crisis for our children.’

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: ‘Year after year we witness A&E wards buckle under the pressure of the influx of patients admitted with respiratory conditions.

‘The evidence is clear, dirty air is a major contributing factor to lung conditions and the NHS’s winter workload.

‘We need the government to urgently commit to reaching WHO guidelines and set out clear actions to meet them by 2030.’

Photo Credit – Pixabay