Press release: Leading doctor says healthcare staff should routinely advise patients on reducing air pollution

Car fumes

A leading respiratory specialist has said healthcare professionals should routinely advise their patients on how they can help to reduce air pollution during consultations.

Dr Ben Marshall, a consultant in respiratory medicine at University Hospital Southampton, said clinicians should factor in time for conversations about measures individuals can take personally to improve air quality.

He spoke out ahead of national Clean Air Day on Thursday (20 June), the UK’s largest air pollution campaign coordinated by charity Global Action Plan.

“Air pollution harms the health of millions of people, particularly young children and those with respiratory and heart problems, and is a huge and growing public health issue,” he said.

“We are behind as a society in recognising the significance of this problem, with around 40,000 deaths a year in the UK linked to air pollution and associated health problems costing some £20 billion annually.

“For healthcare professionals, as people who play such an important part in people’s lives and deal with the consequences of air pollution, we must utilise these opportunities to help the cause.

“Initially that can be ensuring actions such as advising on reducing diesel car usage, recycling inhalers and increasing travel by foot or by bike become routine when it is appropriate to do so during consultations.”

Ben MarshallDr Marshall (pictured right) said the growing evidence linking air quality and health problems demonstrated the importance of utilising healthcare staff to “drive home the message” and highlight how simple actions could make a “significant difference”. 

“I think we are seeing a shift in mentality as people are becoming increasingly aware of the consequences, particularly with the ongoing media focus on the tragic case of asthma patient Ella Kissi-Debrah and the relationship between her attacks and increased pollution levels,” he explained. 

Ella, a nine-year-old from south east London, died in 2013 as a result of a fatal asthma attack, with a second inquest into her death granted by the High Court following the publication of new evidence relating to air pollution levels close to her home.

A report by asthma expert Professor Stephen Holgate, a professor of immunopharmacology in Southampton, released last year found a "striking association" between her emergency hospital admissions and recorded spikes in noxious pollutants nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and PM10s.

“With attention now focused on the extent of air pollution and campaigns such as Clean Air Day ensuring the issue remains high on the agenda, there is the real possibility we can continue to see change,” said Dr Marshall.

Dr Marshall and colleagues including Nikki James, integrated COPD nurse educator at UHS, will host a stand at UHS on Clean Air Day to raise awareness of the campaign and how to get involved. For more information, visit www.cleanairday.org.uk.

Posted on Friday 14 June 2019