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Doctors, charities and patients unite to fight air pollution

Majority of the public worried about health impact of pollution

Adrian O'Dowd

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Clinicians, charities and the general public are uniting to raise concerns over the health impact of air pollution in the UK.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) has released new figures from a survey of the public that showed strong support for tackling air pollution as a top priority.

Twenty-five years on since the Clean Air Act was last amended, air pollution is now the largest environmental risk factor linked to deaths in England and globally, coronary heart disease and stroke account for 58% of deaths related to outdoor air pollution.

The heart research charity says legislation no longer reflects this evidence, which shows that the particulate matter (PM) found in air pollution is the major cause of these cardiovascular deaths.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in 2016, outdoor air pollution was responsible for 17% of all adult deaths from ischaemic heart disease and 14% from stroke.

Last week, the government launched its draft Clean Air Strategy* for consultation with pledges to bring forward new legislation to help clean up the UK’s air quality.

The strategy commits to halving the number of UK population living in areas where PM levels exceed those recommended by WHO by 2025.

The strategy promises that the government will work with the medical royal colleges and the General Medical Council to embed air quality into the health profession’s education and training.

It also promises to work with the NHS, GPs, hospitals, emergency departments, and local authorities to gather better information on where, when and how patients report and are treated for air quality related health conditions.

The BHF said a new Clean Air Act was essential to protect heart health from toxic levels of pollution and called on all government departments and relevant health and third sector bodies to unite around the prospect of strong legislation.

The survey of 532 people on the charity’s On the Pulse Panel found that around two thirds (65%) of respondents were concerned about the effect of air pollution on their health.

The survey also showed that almost a quarter of people (24%) believe outdoor air pollution has affected their health in the last few years and three in five (60%) of the 220 respondents living with a heart and circulatory condition said they have had to change their way of life to avoid outdoor air pollution.

Simon Gillespie, BHF chief executive, said: “Dangerous levels of air pollution in the UK are damaging the health of the public in the UK - both healthy individuals and particularly those with heart and circulatory disease.

“Recognising World Health Organization air quality guidelines in the draft strategy is a positive step but we’d like to see the government go further by adopting the WHO air quality guidelines into national legislation. These more stringent limits would better protect the nation’s heart and circulatory health.”

In response to the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Clean Air Strategy, BMA board of science chair Professor Dame Parveen Kumar said: “We welcome moves to empower local authorities to take action to improve air quality.

“Doctors have called for more to be done to combat lethal levels of air pollution and the impact this has on our health, but they must be supported with adequate investment to enable the implementation of effective, evidence-based air quality plans.”

The consultation closes on 14 August.

*Clean Air Strategy 2018. A report prepared by the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, May 2018.

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