Patients ‘should be told to cut car journeys to help boost respiratory health’

Doctors should routinely advise their patients to reduce the number of car journeys they make to help reduce air pollution and improve respiratory health, a leading specialist has said.

Dr Ben Marshall, a consultant in respiratory medicine at University Hospital Southampton, said clinicians should be taking greater steps in guiding the public on how to improve air quality to help prevent respiratory and heart problems.

He suggests that healthcare professionals should advise patients to stop using diesel cars, increase travel by foot and bike and to recycle inhalers.

Speaking ahead of national Clean Air Day, organised by charity Global Action Plan on Thursday June 20, Dr Marshall said: “Air pollution harms the health of millions of people, particularly young children and those with respiratory and heart problems, and is a huge and growing public health issue.

“We are behind as a society in recognising the significance of this problem, with around 40,000 deaths a year in the UK linked to air pollution and associated health problems costing some £20 billion annually.

“For healthcare professionals, as people who play such an important part in people’s lives and deal with the consequences of air pollution, we must utilise these opportunities to help the cause.

“Initially that can be ensuring actions such as advising on reducing diesel car usage, recycling inhalers and increasing travel by foot or by bike become routine when it is appropriate to do so during consultations.”

Dr Marshall said the growing evidence linking air quality and health problems demonstrated the importance of utilising healthcare staff to “drive home the message” and highlight how simple actions could make a “significant difference”.

He added: “I think we are seeing a shift in mentality as people are becoming increasingly aware of the consequences, particularly with the ongoing media focus on the tragic case of asthma patient Ella Kissi-Debrah and the relationship between her attacks and increased pollution levels.”

Ella, a nine-year-old from south-east London, died in 2013 as a result of a fatal asthma attack, with a second inquest into her death granted by the High Court following the publication of new evidence relating to air pollution levels close to their home.

A report by asthma expert Professor Stephen Holgate, a professor of immunopharmacology in Southampton, released last year found a “striking association” between her emergency hospital admissions and recorded spikes in noxious pollutants nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and PM10s.

Dr Marshall said: “With attention now focused on the extent of air pollution and campaigns such as Clean Air Day ensuring the issue remains high on the agenda, there is the real possibility we can continue to see change.”