One in four hospitals surrounded by dangerous air pollution
A quarter of hospitals in England are located in areas that exceed safe levels for air pollution, research commissioned by the British Lung Foundation has found.
The researchers estimate that around 10.5 million patients could be visiting hospitals surrounded by dangerous levels of tiny PM2.5 air pollution particles, with London the worst affected area.
PM2.5 can be absorbed, not just by people’s lungs, but also by the bloodstream and organs, contributing to diseases such as lung cancer, strokes, diabetes and dementia.
The findings also show that Great Ormond Street Hospital and Birmingham’s Children’s Hospital – two of the largest children’s hospitals in the country – are in areas with unsafe air pollution.
“Air pollution may be invisible, but the potentially deadly consequences are very real,” the British Lung Foundation’s chief executive, Dr Penny Woods, said.
“It’s unacceptable that vulnerable people with NHS appointments are being exposed to toxic air that could make their health worse. The government must act now, for the sake of all our health.”
The findings show that 72% of London’s hospitals are located in areas that exceed World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for PM2.5, compared with 36% in the East Midlands, and 32.5% in the east of England.
Large cities such as Birmingham, Leeds, Leicester, London, Nottingham, Hull, Chelmsford and Southampton all have at least one large NHS trust that is located in an area with unsafe levels of pollution.
In addition, smaller towns such as Ipswich, Westcliff-on-Sea, Gillingham, Worthing, Kettering, Basingstoke and Colchester are also exceeding air pollution limits.
For the whole UK, nearly one in five hospitals have dangerous pollution levels.
This comes after a group of political leaders representing 20 million people in the UK agreed earlier this year to adopt legally binding targets for air pollution in line with WHO guidelines.
NHS England’s chief executive, Simon Stevens, said that the health service is committed to reducing its emissions from vehicles and reliance on fossil fuels for power.
“But although the NHS can take practical steps to reduce our impact on the environment, we can’t win this fight alone, so the growing consensus on the need for wider action across society is welcome,” he added.
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Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM