10.5 million hospital patients at risk from toxic fumes
UK100, a network of local leaders that campaigns on clean air and climate change are today releasing new analysis that shows the major risk to public health from air pollution.
It shows that 1 in 4 hospitals in England and nearly 1 in 5 across the UK are located in areas that exceed safe levels of PM2.5 air pollution as determined by the World Health Organisation. Across the UK, 248 hospitals (17%) exceed safe levels.
UK100 has estimated that around 10.5 million patients could be visiting a hospital with dangerous pollution levels. The pollution, which is known as particulates or PM2.5 – is based on tiny particles which can be absorbed not just by people’s lungs but also get embedded in their bloodstream and organs, contributing to diseases such as lung cancer, strokes, diabetes and dementia.
London is the worst affected with 72% of hospitals in the capital affected, with 95 hospitals breaching guidelines, while 36% of hospitals in the East Midlands are above limits, and nearly a third (32.5%) in the East of England. The data was originally commissioned by the British Lung Foundation.
Polly Billington, Director of the UK100 network, said: “We urgently need to reduce emissions caused by transport and industrial fumes. Local authorities, the NHS and businesses can work together to reduce non-emergency car journeys and the emissions caused by deliveries to hospitals. But we urgently need new laws and funding from government to tackle this health crisis including Clean Air Zones around city hospitals.”
The data shows that each of the 484 NHS trusts in England treat on average 42,438 patients a year. Although hospital-level patient data is not published by the NHS, which extrapolated means an estimated 10,524,708 patients could be at risk when visiting the 248 hospitals across the UK which exceed pollution levels.
Large cities such as Birmingham, Leeds, Leicester, London, Nottingham, Hull, Chelmsford and Southampton 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 limits.
Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, said: “Air pollution causes thousands of avoidable hospital admissions and early deaths every year, and affects more than 2,000 GP surgeries and hospitals. That is why the NHS is committed to playing our part – cutting emissions from the NHS fleet by 20% by 2024, cutting our reliance on fossil fuels for power, and reforming services to reduce the number of visits that people need to make to hospital. But although the NHS can take practical steps to reduce our impact on the environment, as well as treating those suffering the consequences of poor air, we can’t win this fight alone, so the growing consensus on the need for wider action across society is welcome.”
Two of the biggest children’s hospitals in the country, Great Ormond Street Hospital and Birmingham’s Children Hospital, are located in areas with unsafe levels of pollution. Great Ormond Street Hospital have created a Clean Air Hospital Framework and worked with Global Action Plan and Camden Council as part of the Camden Clean Air Partnership. UK100 want to see other local authorities and hospital trusts to replicate these partnership action plans.
Air pollution is the cause and aggravating factor of many respiratory and coronary conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, heart attacks, strokes and lung cancer, as well as being linked to a number of conditions from depression to diabetes, contributing to around 36,000 deaths a year.
Current NHS figures show that 2 million people in the UK have diagnosed COPD, and over 1 million bed days per year are taken up by COPD patients. While smoking is also a contributory factor for COPD, according to the NHS, “non-smoking causes of COPD are becoming more evident. The epidemiological evidence suggests that future emergency admissions to hospital will rise”.
Dr Penny Woods, Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: “Air pollution may be invisible, but the potentially deadly consequences are very real: it can cause lung cancer, stunt children’s lung growth and makes it even harder to breathe for people with existing lung disease. It’s unacceptable that vulnerable people with NHS appointments are being exposed to toxic air that could make their health worse, and health care professionals have no choice but to breathe air pollution at work. The government must act now, for the sake of all our health.”
Earlier in the year, UK100 brought together political leaders representing 20 million people to agree new ambitions for cleaning up our air. Leaders included the Chief Executive of the NHS, Simon Stevens and the Health and Environment Secretaries Matt Hancock and Michael Gove along with the mayors of London and Manchester Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham.
The summit agreed to prioritise:
adopting World Health Organisation recommended air pollution limits as legally binding targets
creating an independent clean air watchdog to hold the Government to account,
granting Local Authorities the powers and resources, to deliver zero emission transport networks
enabling the setting and enforcement of ambitious standards for local air quality,
establishing adequately resourced local powers to set and enforce emission zones for Non-Road Mobile Machinery
co-ordinated action from private and public bodies to improve air quality including the NHS and Highways England
The original research, which is based on predicted 2018 levels, measures patients that attend hospitals located in areas with levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) above the World Health Organisation’s limit (10μg/m3 for the annual average)).
Current legal limits for PM2.5 are twice as high as what the WHO recommends, and it is urgent to adopt and meet WHO’s limit as soon as possible to protect and promote the public’s health.
Hospitals exceeding PM2.5 WHO guidelines
Hospitals exceeding PM2.5 WHO guidelines (%)
East of England
Yorkshire & Humber
Top 10 hospitals located in areas with the highest levels of PM2.5 pollution:
PM2.5 Level (annual)
Tennyson Road, Lowestoft, Suffolk
The Heart Hospital
The Heart Hospital, 16-18 Westmoreland Street, London
Western Eye Hospital
153-173 Marylebone Road, London, Greater London
The Royal London Hospital For Integrated Medicine
60 Great Ormond Street, London
Northgate Street, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk
The Princess Grace Hospital
42-52 Nottingham Place, London
Bmi Southend Private Hospital
15-17 Fairfax Drive, Westcliff On Sea, Essex
Mount Gould Local Care Centre
200 Mount Gould Road, Mount Gould, Plymouth, Devon
Great Ormond Street Hospital
Great Ormond Street, London, Greater London
National Hospital For Neurology And Neurosurgery
Queen Square, London