Clean air is healthcare
On Clean Air Day (June 17), we invite health and care professionals across north east London to take action!
Air pollution is a huge threat to health in the UK. The annual mortality burden from outdoor air pollution exposure is equivalent to around 40,000 deaths, with a consequential cost of up to £20 billion a year to society, businesses and health services.
But the health service itself contributes significantly to this problem: approximately 3.5% (9.5 billion miles) of all road travel in England relates to patients, visitors, staff and suppliers to the NHS, with a resultant release of 7,285 tonnes of nitrogen oxide (NOx) and 330 tonnes of particulates. Therefore, as health professionals working in the NHS we are part of the problem, but we can also help to lead the solution.
One of the most powerful and engaging aspects of action on air pollution is the “co-benefits” effect. Encouraging people to switch to so called “active travel”, away from private car use, not only helps to reduce air pollution-associated health costs, but also brings rapid improvements in physical health through increasing physical activity.
A 2018 report on costs associated with private car and van use, reported that swapping 1 in 4 car journeys in urban areas for walking or cycling could save over £1.1 billion in health damage costs per year. And, according to 2020 “Delivering a ‘Net Zero’ NHS report, 38,400 lives could be saved a year by increasing physical activity. These actions are particularly relevant for the population we serve in north east London; in urban areas the air pollution generated by private car use is particularly damaging to health and is unequally experienced; lowest income households are least likely to own a car, but the most likely to be harmed by the health effects of air pollution.
As health professionals we are trusted messengers, and we can use our voice to encourage our patients, friends, family and colleagues to make the switch to active travel and help protect the most vulnerable in our communities.
Taking up walking and cycling instead of driving is a challenge for some and made more difficult by limited active travel infrastructure in some areas. Therefore, we have a responsibility as health professionals to advocate on behalf of our patients for better active travel infrastructure.
What you can do
- Check out your impact with an air pollution calculator https://calculator.cleanairhub.org.uk/quiz
- Join Barts Health activities across their hospital sites
- Sort out some clean wheels by looking into the details of the bike to work scheme on the intranet that saves you tax on a bike purchase
What you can watch
- Time for change a short film made by young people in Tower hamlets re climate and air pollution https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VuEQ6A3MhY (16 minutes)
- Find out what GPs in Tower Hamlets are going to take climate action https://youtu.be/HnQjpMOjjpA (3.35 minutes)
- Clean air hub – specifically tower hamlets section for public and professionals including Abi Whitehouse from Barts Health talk on health effects (8:42 and 38 minutes)
- Every Breath Matters: Prof Marmot and Prof Holgate in conversation Michael and Stephen make a personal reckoning with air pollution – and issue a call-to-arms for health care professionals to take on the challenge of air quality https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYXKZt_mViU&t=0s (34 minutes)
- Royal Society of Medicine climate talks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1k9TwTJ2ws (59 minutes)