Dr Sarah Robertson, UK Health Security Agency
On behalf of the multi-agency London Air Quality and Health Programme Office
The health effects of air pollution are serious – it is one of the greatest environmental risks to human health and one of the main avoidable causes of death and disease globally. No one is immune – air pollution has an impact on everyone living and working in London. It can cause or make worse a wide range of damaging cardiovascular and respiratory conditions, including asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Children and young people are especially vulnerable to harm because their bodies, organs and immune systems are still developing.
The impact of air quality of lung health
1 in 11 children and young people are affected by asthma, meaning 240,000 children and young people in London have asthma. Moreover, the burden of asthma is not spread equally among the population. Those living in deprived communities are more likely to have asthma and more likely to be exposed to higher levels of air pollution. There is clear evidence that exposure to air pollution can make asthma symptoms worse and trigger asthma attacks. In June of this year, the impact of poor air quality was clearly seen with effects on our population and on the healthcare system: hot weather, high pollen count and air pollution brought increased demand in emergency department attendances for respiratory conditions. We cannot afford to ignore it!
The Chief Medical Officer’s 2022 report focussed on air pollution and highlighted the need for healthcare professionals to be trained in how to minimise the health effects of air pollution and communicate this to patients. A multi-agency London Air Quality and Health Programme Office (a collaboration between the NHS, UK Health Security Agency, Office for Health Improvement and Disparities and the Mayor of London) has been established to coordinate and take forward joint pan-London work on air quality across the health and care system. Find out more about us, how we work as a partnership and our vision, priorities and values by visiting our website here.
Developing an air pollution health alert system
One of our aims is to develop the UK’s first targeted air pollution-health alert system for general practice and emergency departments in London. Developed with a wide range of partners across London’s health and care system and the Mayor of London, the alert will act as an early warning system for periods of high air pollution and provide clear, evidence-based and specific recommendations for action to reduce avoidable harm in people with asthma.
As part of our duty of care, we encourage health and care professionals to provide patients with all the information they need to help manage their conditions.
The evidence is clear – air pollution is a major public health issue. The good news is that people can reduce their risk of health harm. Below are three simple steps as a start:
- Walk, cycle and scoot more, and avoid the busiest roads when you can.
- Use public transport where possible, but if you do have to drive, switch your engine off when you’re stationary.
- Avoid unnecessary burning at home (e.g. in a stove or open fire) unless it is your only source of heat.
The London Air Quality and Health Programme Office is proud to support #AskAboutAsthma for 2023 and help raise awareness of the importance of asthma control to improve respiratory health and quality of life. The campaign is also helping to shine a spotlight on air pollution and its serious impact on human health.
Calling all healthcare professionals!
Help us spark a movement by introducing conversations within your organisation. Talking about air pollution is a form of action on air pollution.
Coming soon will be evidence-based training and support resources developed by the London Air Quality and Health Programme Office in collaboration with Workforce, Training and Education, NHS England – London.
Check here for updates.
Visit the 2023 #AskAboutAsthma webpage for more blogs, videos and podcasts about asthma care for children and young people.