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Future of Healthcare Q1 2023

Does the future of health depend on clean air?

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Oksana Vainrub

Laura Fatah

Policy and Research Manager, Policy Connect

Baroness Jenny Jones of Moulsecoomb

House of Lords, Green Party

Clean air would prevent the 28,000–35,000 premature deaths a year caused by air pollution — the single greatest threat to human health. The economic arguments for acting on clean air are clear, as the Government estimates that between 2017 and 2025, air pollutants will cost the NHS and social care system £1.6 billion.

Toxic air is killing children in the UK, both on the streets and in the home. The tragic cases of Ella Kissi-Debrah and Awaab Ishak demonstrate the urgency to act. Unfortunately, the air quality targets set by the Environment Improvement Plan 2023 fail to align with international World Health Organisation standards.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty reports: “A better understanding of how we can prevent and reduce indoor air pollution should now be a priority.” Around 80–90% of our time is spent indoors. However, more is known about air quality outdoors than indoors; and indoor air is not regulated or routinely monitored.

Pollution takes lives

‘Ella’s Law’ — formally the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill — is named after Ella Kissi-Debrah, who sadly became the first person in the UK to have air pollution recognised as a cause of her death, after passing away in 2013 at just nine years old.

Carbon monoxide is the deadliest indoor pollutant.

Ella’s Law would create a human right to breathe clean air, set legal limits for indoor and outdoor air pollutants, and place duties on the Government to achieve and maintain clean air within five years. To show support for Ella’s Law, Early Day Motion 679 has been signed by nearly sixty MPs from across the political spectrum – and more are signing each week.

Importance of air quality

Medical research has shown that air pollution is linked to many long-term health conditions, including asthma, heart conditions and even dementia in older people. The Air Quality Expert Group (AQEG) reported last year that indoor environments can become toxic more easily and with fewer emissions than outdoor environments. While the Government’s understanding of the health impacts of pollution has grown over the years, rapid action is needed.

Indoor air quality matters

Cross-party think tank Policy Connect is supporting Ella’s Law; making the case for clean air publicly and politically.

Carbon monoxide is the deadliest indoor pollutant. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Carbon Monoxide Safety (APPCOG) leads Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week, bringing lifesaving messages to millions of people each year.

Together, we can tackle the problem of dirty air — but the Government needs to join the fight. 

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