Toxic air at the door of the NHS

Our report, Toxic air at the doors of the NHS, reveals that millions of patients and health care practitioners across the UK are exposed to unsafe levels of pollution.

The report outlines that more than 2,000 health centres are located in areas with levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) above the World Health Organisation’s limit. PM2.5 are minuscule particles invisible to the naked eye that are small enough to pass through the lungs, and enter the bloodstream. The report contains six case studies: Birmingham, London, Nottingham, Worthing, Aberdeen and Cardiff.

Toxic air at the door of the NHS

Our analysis reveals that vulnerable groups are exposed to unsafe levels of pollution that could aggravate existing conditions, and increase patients’ and staff’s risk of developing a lung condition further down the line. Current legal limits for PM2.5 are twice as high as what the WHO recommends, and it is urgent to adopt and meet WHO’s limit as soon as possible to protect and promote the public’s health.

Key findings

  • More than 2,000 health centres in Great Britain, including major teaching hospitals, children’s hospitals, clinics and GP surgeries are in areas which exceed safe air pollution limits for one of the most dangerous air pollutants.
  • 2,220 GP practices and 248 hospitals are in areas with average levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) that are above the limit recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) (10μg/m3 for the annual average).
  • 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.
  • 1 in 3 GP surgeries and 1 in 4 hospitals in England are located in areas that exceed the level of PM2.5 deemed safe by the World Health Organisation.
  • Many cities including Birmingham, Cardiff, Leeds, Leicester, London, Nottingham, Hull, Chelmsford and Southampton have at least one large NHS trust that is located in an area with unsafe levels of pollution.
  • Smaller towns such as Ipswich, Westcliff-on-Sea, Gillingham, Worthing, Kettering, Basingstoke and Colchester, to name but a few, also have their main hospital located in an area with unsafe levels of pollution.
  • Many more cities and towns have small hospitals, clinics and GP surgeries that are located in areas exceeding the WHO’s limit.
  • In Wales, more than 57 health centres – 54 GP practices and 3 hospitals – are above the WHO’s limit for PM2.5. Our data shows that PM2.5 levels are highest in Cardiff.
  • Scotland has comparatively lower annual mean levels of PM2.5. Nevertheless, three healthcare sites have been identified as exceeding the WHO’s limit: Aberdeen Community Health and Care Village, Camelon Medical Practice in Falkirk and Merse Medical Practice in Berwickshire.

Key recommendations

  • Adopt the World Health Organisation’s limit for PM2.5 into UK law through the upcoming Environment Bill to guarantee that the highest health standards are incorporated into future legislation.
  • Implement a network of charging Clean Air Zones in cities and towns with the highest levels of air pollution across the UK. Where possible, these zones should include hospitals and other health centres.
  • Provide greater investment in air quality monitoring for places where vulnerable groups gather, including hospitals and health centres, so that where appropriate, people can make an informed choice about where they receive care.

Read the full report (PDF 1MB)