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Air quality alert system introduced for London’s health profesionals

NHS England have this morning unveiled a new air quality alert system for London’s health professionals, which will warn of impending air pollution episodes 24 hours in advance.

The press release reads:

The London Air Quality and Health Programme Office has collaborated with a wide range of partners across London’s healthcare system and the Mayor of London to develop the UK’s first targeted air pollution alert system for health professionals in London.

The London Air Quality alert system will provide timely alerts to all GPs and Emergency Departments in the city approximately 24 hours before high air pollution episodes are forecasted.

This alert system is triggered by forecasts from Imperial College London and provides clear guidance for conducting person-centred conversations with patients, preparing for future high air pollution episodes, and offering advice on reducing exposure to and contribution to air pollution.

Long-term exposure to air pollution, spanning years or lifetimes, and short-term exposure to heightened levels, pose health hazards. Such short-term exposure can trigger exacerbations of asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), conditions accounting for a substantial portion of hospital admissions in London.

Dr Chris Streather, Medical Director and Chief Clinical Information Officer, NHS England London, said: ‘This new alert system is important step towards educating and protecting our patients against the negative effects of air pollution. By delivering targeted air quality alerts to London’s healthcare professionals, we are empowering our frontline NHS staff to provide informed care and support for our communities’ wellbeing.’

Professor Kevin Fenton, London Regional Director of Public Health explains that they would like healthcare professionals to consider the content of the alert and how they could incorporate this guidance and advice into your practice.

He said: ‘It’s important to acknowledge that exposure to poor air quality is often linked to living in some of the more deprived parts of London, where housing is frequently located along busy roads with poorer air quality, exacerbating health inequalities.

‘Healthcare professionals diagnose and treat the consequences of poor air quality daily – by integrating air quality awareness into their regular practice and into patient-centred conversations, they can support patients to adopt healthier lifestyles, mitigate their exposure to air pollution and, importantly, advocate for cleaner air.’

The London Air Quality and Health Programme Office was set  up following The Mayor of London’s Clean Air and Health Summit in February 2022 and is responsible for co-ordinating and tracking the commitments made at it.

One of its primary responsibilities is to ensure that poor air quality is ‘recognised and prioritised as a determinant of poor health outcomes and a key driver of health inequalities in London’.

Dr Camilla Kingdon, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: ‘Paediatricians have long warned about the damaging impact air pollution is having on our health and the health of children. Air pollution is now the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK, with children being particularly vulnerable.

‘These newly announced air quality alerts are an important step forward in arming healthcare professionals with the information and context needed to reduce harm associated with air pollution and to treat their patients to the very best of their abilities. When it comes to air pollution, knowledge is power, so we want to see this initiative evaluated and rolled out to other cities, and for paediatric-specific alerts to be developed with tailored information for children, whom we know are especially impacted.

‘We also cannot allow air pollution to become the new normal. Stronger air quality targets aligned with WHO guidelines are key to improving the quality of the air we breathe and safeguarding the health of current and future generations – and there is clear evidence that these targets can be achieved by 2030, ten years sooner than current government ambition. We can’t have an extra decade of children breathing dirty air; therefore, we are calling on the UK Government to strengthen air quality targets as soon as possible. Children have a right to clean air, and we must fight for it to become a reality.’


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