How air pollution impacts our NHS

Air pollution is putting a significant amount of stress on the NHS. Learn more about how this is affecting our healthcare system.

Spikes in air pollution increase pressure on the NHS

For people with lung conditions, such as asthma or COPD, a spike in air pollution levels can leave them fighting for breath. It can worsen their symptoms and cause flare-ups and asthma attacks and even hospitalisation. This is having a significant and avoidable impact on our NHS with an estimated additional 20,000 hospital admissions each year linked to air pollution episodes.

Air pollution reduces people’s ability to exercise and stay well

Exercise is an essential way to help people with a lung condition improve and manage their conditions. Yet many of the people who we support have told us that air pollution stops them walking and cycling in their area for fear of making their condition worse or making them feel unwell.

Nearly a quarter of British hospitals in very high levels of air pollution. Our analysis has found that thousands of health centres and care homes in Britain, including major teaching hospitals, children’s hospitals, clinics and GP surgeries, are located in areas with dangerously high levels of air pollution.

Many people live in these care homes and visit these hospitals, clinics, and GP surgeries every year, and some people – including many with a lung condition - need ongoing hospital treatment so must visit multiple times. This is unacceptable and is putting patients, and health and social care professionals at unnecessary risk.

Nicky Philpott
Director, UK Health Alliance on Climate Change

Just as air pollution affects every organ in our bodies, so all health professionals must learn about this impact and how to talk to their patients about lessening their risk. The alliance, representing over 700,000 health professionals, has been delighted that many have worked with us to develop materials to use, from the nurse conducting the asthma check to emergency clinicians. We all need this knowledge to protect people from harm the best that we can.