The NHS is facing a winter crisis – and it’s being exacerbated by air pollution.
That’s the ominous warning from a group of 175 doctors and health professionals, who say the government must focus on improving air quality across the country.
The medical staff have written a letter to the media explaining how accident and emergency departments and doctor’s surgeries are ‘overwhelmed’, in which they highlight how for the first time ever this month, every major accident and emergency unit in England failed to hit its four-hour waiting time target.
The health professionals note hospitals are reporting an increase in patients with acute respiratory conditions and a “further increase in young children aged under one” attending for bronchitis and bronchiolitis symptoms.
They point out data from King’s College London suggests living near a busy road can increase the risk of asthmatic children getting bronchitis symptoms by up to 11.5%, while the risk of emergency hospitalisations for pneumonia in children is generally around 2% higher on high-pollution days than on low-pollution days.
The letter claims cutting air pollution by a fifth could result in 4,481 fewer children suffering from acute bronchitis each year across seven cities in the UK and urges Prime Minister Boris Johnson to use the upcoming Queen’s Speech to commit to cutting air pollution levels to World Health Organization limits and provide additional funding for the NHS.
Professor Stephen Holgate, Clinical Professor of Immunopharmacology at the University of Southampton, Royal College of Physicians’ Special Adviser on Air Quality and one of the UK’s Clean Air Champions, said: “Air pollution is the public health problem of our time. The government must give this the highest priority for the sake of the country’s health.”
Dr Aaarti Bansal, 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. It’s a no-brainer.”