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Health Workers ask PM for urgent action on air pollution

A letter, conceived and written by Ride for Their Lives, a grassroots collaboration of UK and international healthcare providers who cycle to galvanise action on the air quality crisis, has been sent to Rishi Sunak. 

The letter is in support of a previous medical missive to the Prime Minister, urging him to ‘distance himself from the merchants of doubt’ 

The 209 signatories cover a wide range of professions, including doctors, nurses, general practitioners and mental health professionals. 

Dear Prime Minister,

We agree with Prof. Frank Kelly and his colleagues that the research undertaken by UK scientists on the issue of toxic air is world leading. The scientists have given us disturbing evidence, but we as health care providers are left on the front line with the heartbreaking impacts. We deal with children struggling to breathe, parents grieving lost babies, adults suffering from cancer, heart attacks, stroke, and dementia. All made more common by the toxic air we breathe.

We were directed by your Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, to ensure that ‘the training of healthcare staff should include the health effects of air pollution and how to minimise these, including communication with patients’. We see our role as translating the scientific evidence honestly into meaningful actions our patients can take to protect themselves and their families.

Sadly, there are very few effective actions that our patients can take to reduce their personal exposure. Much more powerful are the interventions that only coordinated action from national, regional, and local governments can achieve. These include providing environments where our patients can travel safely on foot and by bike, Ultra Low Emission and Clean Air Zones as in London, Newcastle and other cities, local traffic control solutions such as school streets, and effective regulation of wood burning in urban areas. The science shows that this clears the air, reduces hospitalization, and make our frontline work easier. It is deeply worrying that some politicians have chosen to deny the science and promote delay and disinformation. We call on you to set an example to your peers.

Making it safe for young children to travel to school on foot or bike brings enormous mental and physical health benefits as does cycling to work along safe and unpolluted routes while experiencing the smell, sight and sounds of nature.

We urge you and your colleagues to promote a better, cleaner future for the UK. We ask you to work with us and our scientific colleagues in making the case for urgent action on air pollution. As your Chief Medical Officer said: “Air pollution is an environmental risk to health that can, and should, be solved systematically.” Please listen.

Ride for their Lives started in October 2021 when a group of paediatric patients wrote urgent messages on ‘The Blue Bag’ (a blue satchel) which healthcare workers carried to world leaders at the international climate conference, COP26 in Glasgow.

The Head of Climate Change and Health at the W.H.O, cycled from Geneva, carrying a report on the health argument for climate action.

When he arrived in London, he placed it in the blue bag alongside a healthy climate prescription. A diverse group of paediatric healthcare cyclists carried these messages onto Glasgow.

Since then the bag has been on multiple journeys around Europe and attended COP26 and COP27 .

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