Climate Action

Study reveals that major UK hospitals are surrounded by toxic air

A study by the British Lung Foundation & UK100 reported that 248 hospitals in the UK are located in areas with particle pollution above WHO guidelines.

  • 20 August 2019
  • Camilla Watkiss

A study by the British Lung Foundation & UK100 reported that 248 hospitals (17 per cent of the total) in the UK are located in areas with particle pollution above WHO guidelines.

The new data prompts calls for urgent action to reduce transport and industrial emissions in cities, particularly around hospitals. The research found that nearly one in five hospitals in the UK are located in areas that exceed safe levels of fine particle pollution - PM2.5 - as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The dangerous levels of fine particles in the air can penetrate deep into the bloodstream and organs, contributing to lung cancer, strokes, diabetes and dementia.

The worst affected area is London, with 72 per cent of the city’s hospitals located in areas with PM2.5 above WHO guidelines.

2 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.

One of the reports key recommendations is to adopt the World Health Organisation’s limit for PM2.5 into UK law through the upcoming Environment Bill.

“We urgently need new laws and funding from government to tackle this health crisis including Clean Air Zones around city hospitals.” Stated Polly Billington, Director of UK100.

According to UK100, 36 per cent of hospitals in East Midlands are affected by high pollution levels as well as 32.5 per cent in the East of England. Many of the UK’s major cities have at least one large NHS trust located in an area that exceeds safe levels of particle pollution.

Chief Executive of the NHS, Simon Stevens, commented on the report, stating that “practical steps” such as switching to cleaner forms of transport and power are being taken by local health services to address to problem. However, he has argued for wider action stating that “we can’t win this fight alone […] air pollution causes thousands of avoidable hospital admissions and early deaths every year, and affects more than 2,000 GP surgeries and hospitals.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recently published its latest Clean Air Strategy, which is designed to tackle levels of pollution in the UK that exceed EU legal limits. 

“We know the impact air pollution has on communities around the UK, which is why we are stepping up the pace and taking urgent action to improve air quality.” Defra said in a statement.

The Clean Air Strategy includes investing heavily in new technologies, businesses and services that will help to reduce transport emissions “to clean up our air to the benefit of everyone”.

Read full report here.

Photograph: David Holt