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The critical role health professionals can play in speaking to patients about air pollution
(03/06/21)

 

By Catherine Kenyon, Senior Programme Manager 4 min read

 

In January this year, legal history was made when a coroner ruled that air pollution was a cause of the death of nine-year-old, Ella Kissi-Debrah. This followed a brave campaign by her family to ensure justice for Ella. In the subsequent Future Prevention of Deaths Report shared by the coroner, one of the key recommendations was a call for health professionals in the UK to be trained and talking to patients about air pollution.

 

This serious gap in current medical training was a concern that also came to light through a project that Global Action Plan and the UKHACC recently completed on how to mobilise health professionals on air pollution in the UK. Over 2020 we worked with 40 respiratory and paediatric health professionals on the project, our first step was to train the group on the impacts of air pollution on patient health.  

 

Whilst health professionals already provide health advice around lots of lifestyle issues including smoking, exercise and diet, health professionals reported that: they are not talking to or advising patients about air pollution; it is not uniformly integrated into healthcare professional training; and materials are not readily available for health professionals to share with their patients on air pollution. Even though air pollution is well recognised as an urgent public health emergency - the Royal College of Physicians has estimated that air pollution is responsible for more than 20,000 hospital admissions every year in the UK due to respiratory or cardiovascular diseases1.   

 

‘In the 6 years I was in medical school, and now 17 years as a consultant physician, I have never once, unless I instigated the training or invited an expert speaker, had any training on air pollution. Despite it being something that causes nearly 40,000 deaths across the UK each year.’ Consultant Respiratory Physician.

 

We worked with the 40 health professionals to understand what types of materials and resources would be most useful to share with patients on air pollution, and where in the patient pathway conversations could be best held. As a result of the project a selection of leaflets and posters are now available for colleagues across the health sector to use.  

 

However, the message from the health professionals was clear, the development of these materials in themselves are not sufficient. The UK needs to set up a nationwide programme to support the inclusion of air pollution into patient advice. To support that programme, air pollution must be integrated into health sector practice as per the coroner’s guidance, and alongside that we need a national public health campaign on the impact of air pollution on the public’s health.  

 

On the 17 June 2021, national Clean Air Day, the coroner for the Future Prevention of Deaths report has asked the relevant health sector organisations formally respond on the report’s recommendations. We look forward to seeing how the health sector and the government can step up to respond. As some of the most trusted messengers in society, we know that health professionals can play a crucial role in protecting people’s health from air pollution in future.  

 

The executive learning report from the Mobilising Health Professionals project is available here. The project was funded with support from Defra and the Clean Air Fund.  

 

Note: Over 2021 GAP and the UKHACC will be working on a second phase of the Mobilising Health Professionals project with GPs. If you would be interested to find out more about the project, please contact us at [email protected]    

 

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