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Indoor and outdoor air pollution burden to NHS

Urgent action needed to reduce air pollution outside, inside and at work 

The NHS will be unable to cope if we fail to tackle air pollution, the RCN has said in response to a report on the life-long impact of air pollution.

The report Every Breath We Take by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health looks at outdoor, indoor and workplace air pollution, analysing the immediate and long-term effect from pre-birth to old age.

About 40,000 UK deaths are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution, and more are connected to indoor pollutants such as passive smoking and burning wood, coal and oil.

In response, RCN professional lead for long-term conditions and end of life care Amanda Cheesley said: ‘The UK needs to make a concerted effort to reduce air pollution as part of its overall ambition to improve the health of all of its residents. Failing to tackle this problem will lead to premature deaths, pain and misery for many, and a health system which simply cannot cope with an ageing population with multiple, complex conditions.

‘There is a moral imperative to act now to prevent this and to make sure future generations breathe better air than this one.  This report makes clear that air pollution is a threat to the health of everyone – whether they know it immediately or not.’

While air pollution is associated with respiratory conditions, cardiovascular disease and cancers, the report found links with a wider range of conditions including diabetes, dementia and neurological disease.

Children, older people, those with chronic health problems, the poor and obese people are most at risk from air pollution.

The report’s author, the chief medical officer for England Dame Sally Davies said that exposure to air pollution during pregnancy may be associated with low birth weight and pre-term births. The report also found a link between fetal exposure and autistic spectrum disorders and children exposed to indoor air pollution and ADHD.

The report recommends that the NHS and local government must set high standards of emission control. It stated: ‘The health service must no longer be a major polluter; it must lead by example and set the benchmark for clean air and safe workplaces. In turn, this action will reduce the burden of air pollution-related illness on the NHS.’

The report listed nurses themselves as one of the groups most at risk of asthma because of exposure to asthmagens in the workplace such as cleaning agents.

Association of Respiratory Nurse Specialists chair Matthew Hodson, a former Nursing Standard nurse of the year, said: ‘I have seen examples where people living with conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease have been affected by the current quality of air, exacerbating symptoms and affecting quality of life.’

To read the report click here

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