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‘Unsafe’ levels of air pollution for 30% of practice patients in England

by Costanza Pearce
14 February 2019

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One in three NHS patients in England are registered at GP practices in areas that exceed safe levels of pollution, new figures have revealed.

Research carried out by environmental cities network UK100 shows that nearly 18 million patients in England are registered with practices in locations where air pollution is above the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) limit for fine particulate matter (PM2.5).
PM2.5 is an air pollutant that mainly derives from car emissions and has been linked to conditions including asthma, heart diseases, stroke and lung cancer.

Chief executive of the British Lung Foundation Dr Penny Woods said: ‘It’s just not acceptable that nearly 18 million people are breathing unsafe levels of air pollution when seeking medical care from their GP.
We know that our society’s most vulnerable people – especially children, the elderly and those with heart and lung problems – are most at risk from air pollution.
More must be done to keep them and healthcare staff safe; the World Health Organisation’s limit on particulate matter pollution should be included in the upcoming Environment Bill to ensure we meet it.’
The UK100 research is based on analysis of a report by the British Lung Foundation and figures from NHS Digital.
As Management in Practice reported in October, British Lung Foundation data reveals that 2,164 GP practices in England (one in three) are in areas where air pollution is above WHO limits.  

Patients in London are at the greatest risk, with 75% registered at practices where pollution levels exceed WHO limits, according to the study.
Despite this, four of the five GP practices with the highest levels of pollution are located in the North West, in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria.

In Wales, 54 practices are in areas that are above the WHO’s limit for PM2.5, with the highest levels of the pollutant reported in Cardiff. Scotland has comparatively lower annual mean levels of PM2.5.

Current legal limits for PM2.5 in the UK are twice as high as WHO recommendations and UK100 are calling for leadership from central government to tackle the problem with new laws and funding for local authorities.

A major Clean Air Summit is today being hosted in London, attended by health secretary Matt Hancock, environment secretary Michael Gove, NHS chief executive Simon Stevens, and London mayor Sadiq Khan as well as mayors and council leaders from across England.