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Cleaner air programme makes recommendations

Barts Health NHS Trust has teamed up with the Greater London Authority (GLA), its four London boroughs and behavioural change charity, Global Action Plan, to address the effects of air pollution, which is becoming a critical issue for the health sector.

According to a new report by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), entitled ‘Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution’, more than 40,000 people in the UK die as a result of poor air quality every year. Over 9,500 of these are in London. The staggering reality is that for Barts Health NHS Trust, as many as 200,000 members of its community are negatively impacted by air pollution.

The report also estimates that the impacts of air pollution cost the UK health economy around £20 billion a year. This is believed to be double the cost of obesity, yet little is being done to tackle its effects.

The Barts Health Cleaner Air for East London programme has seen more than 300 Barts Health professionals and more than 95 pharmacists trained and engaged over 300 volunteers. Five hospitals and four GP surgeries participated in the programme and 6,000 Cleaner Air Packs were distributed.

As a result of this work on air pollution, several recommendations have been made.

Commissioners have a key role to play in driving prevention in healthcare. Smoking and obesity are two examples where the value of preventative care has been recognised. Air quality currently isn’t, but it is now recognised as a major public health issue with a significant cost to the NHS. Directing finances towards actively encouraging preventative interventions in this area would drive long-term financial, social, environmental and health medication efficiencies.

It is critical to embed air pollution messaging and changes in behaviours into existing care pathway models. Delivering proven messages and techniques to empower patients with knowledge and information to protect themselves is important.

As one of the largest employers in the UK and a contributor to commuter, visitor, supplier and site traffic, the NHS should lead by example. Hospital Trusts should take practical action to reduce their contribution to air pollution through their emissions.

Collaboration was a key factor in the success of the Cleaner Air for East London programme, demonstrating that Trusts and Local Authorities should work together to deliver short-term objectives and drive long-term improvements.

Establishing clear links between education, academic research and healthcare organisations will explore ways of sharing data and information and increasing research. Building such a cohesive approach will help establish a business case for further investment in air pollution prevention measures and allow commissioners and Trusts to invest in the most effective preventative care methods available.

Widescale engagement is now necessary to broaden the impact of the Cleaner Air for East London programme, helping other organisations to understand how they could play a positive role in tackling air pollution. One suggestion is the creation of a National Cleaner Air Day, which would bring understanding to both the public and healthcare professionals and empower people to protect themselves from excessive levels of pollution.