Air pollution: the global health issue that's every paediatrician's problem

Get to know Alice Willson, the second of three Clinical Fellows to join RCPCH as part of the Clean Air Fund Partnership. Leading on educational resources and clean air clinics Alice brings incredibly useful experience to the project through her previous out of programme experiences.
Alice Willson, RCPCH Clinical Fellow, at the up of a mountain

It’s a real privilege to be starting as the second RCPCH Clinical Fellow with the Clean Air Fund (CAF) Partnership, where I’ll be leading on educational resources and reviewing Clean Air Clinics. In case you missed it, my fabulous colleague Emily recently wrote a blog about her background leading her to this opportunity. Complementing Emily’s social anthropology training, my background is as a general paediatrician with an interest in medical education. After medical training in London, I moved to Manchester (mainly for the hills, I’m a fell runner!) and have lived in the North West ever since. 

As a junior registrar I spent a year living in Rwanda, volunteering on the RCPCH Global Links Neonatal Care Programme – this was a game changer for me. Working clinically to embed quality improvement frameworks into rural neonatal units, I quickly learnt the importance of building relationships by contributing practically. I also learnt about the power of data, and my personal influence as an outsider - privy to conversations within WHO/UNICEF and government.

Whilst in Rwanda I cycled extensively with my husband and this opened my eyes to the scale of environmental disaster inflicted by humans: air pollution from old cars in Kigali itself, a vast market in second hand clothes sent over from Europe and regular mudslides in heavily deforested areas.

Back in the UK I relatively quickly had two children which, combined with a global pandemic, kept me local. I was becoming increasingly aware of the huge deprivation on my doorstep and a job advert from Health Education England for Population Health fellows caught my eye. At the time I had no idea what this meant, but the concept of a wider workforce taking a social determinants approach to health really appealed.

From 2022-23 I was embedded in the Population Health directorate of Greater Manchester ICS. I was closely involved with an Asthma Friendly Schools pilot which had linked high A+E rates for asthma with postcodes to identify communities most at need of intervention. Many of the schools we worked with were in heavily traffic polluted areas, with little green space and poor internal environments. I was featured talking about this project and working in public health in Milestones last summer (page 19).

My ask: Make cycling in london safer and put more funding into supporting communities from lower socioeconomic backgrounds

Coming into the RCPCH I feel very lucky to be able to bring clinical experience to a national organisation that is so well regarded for advocating about health inequalities and air pollution on behalf of children and young people (CYP). At the heart of all our work will be the voice of CYP, so I’m excited to start the year with a series of roadshows run by RCPCH &Us. We had a sneak peek at the amazing energy of RCPCH &Us during a mini workshop at RCPCH conference in Birmingham [see photo of "My Ask" poster] where we were told in no uncertain terms that ‘nobody uses Facebook’ and that we all needed to be on TikTok!  

People running along a canal, seen from above

Another conference highlight was the opportunity to network including during the Tuesday morning 6.5k run with soon to be third fellow, Harry. The wider CAF team did a fantastic job sharing our plans in a workshop and feeding into the climate change working group symposium and #ShiftTheDial sessions and supporting Ride for Their Lives. Overall, there was a real sense that RCPCH members understand the huge impact of air pollution on child health, that it disproportionately affects those in more deprived areas of the globe, and that we as child health professionals can actively do something about it. 

The areas I will be leading on include creating educational resources to support RCPCH members to communicate about air pollution with CYP, reviewing novel Clean Air Clinics which are popping up around the country, and forging links with international members.

I’m energised to crack on with the role and encourage anyone interested in collaborating to get in touch at