More than 700,000 people across the North West are at risk of developing a range of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases as a result of being registered with GP services located in areas which have unsafe levels of air pollution, according to new data.
According to analysis of air pollution data released by the environmental cities network UK100, some 18 million people in the UK - almost one third of the country's population - have to travel through areas which breach the World Health Organisation air quality standards to see their GP, leading UK100 to call for the government to tackle the problem with new laws and funding for local authorities to clean up our toxic atmosphere.
Air pollution already causes up to 20,200 respiratory and cardiovascular hospital admissions every year, with the Royal College of Physicians saying that exposure to dangerous levels of pollution has been linked to asthma, heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer, with emerging evidence showing impacts on low birth weight, diabetes. and neuro-degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
“Air pollution is a national problem," said Polly Billington, Director of UK100. "Some of the most vulnerable groups of people, including young children and older people, will walk to their GP, often to get help with respiratory conditions. We need urgent action from the government, with a new Clean Air Act passed by parliament to tackle toxic fumes.”
Air pollution comes in the form of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) which is invisible to the naked eye and small enough to pass through the lungs and enter the bloodstream, costing the NHS an estimated £6bn. Given the government's current legal limits for PM2.5 are twice as high as what the WHO recommends, Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, has called for governmental change.
"Air pollution causes thousands of hospital admissions and early deaths every year, said Mr Stevens ahead of a major Clean Air Summit in London on Thursday. "The summit this week is an important opportunity to come together and focus on the next steps we can all take to ensure a happier, healthier future for everyone."
Set to be attended by the London Mayor Sadiq Khan, as well as the Environment Secretary Michael Gove MP, Health Secretary Matt Hancock MP, and Mr Stevens himself, the summit will discuss the growing impact of air pollution in the UK; already one of the country's biggest killers, air pollution causes more deaths per year than diabetes and road accidents combined, hastening the demise of an estimated 36,000 people annually according to King’s College London.
Dr Penny Woods, Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation, 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."
Professor Dame Parveen Kumar, Chair of the British Medical Association’s Board of Science, added: “Poor air quality is a serious problem in many cities across the UK and has a detrimental impact on the environment and the health of the population. It is a shocking state of affairs that this invisible killer is still not taken seriously enough by policy makers.”