RCPCH responds to the Chief Medical Officers’ 2022 report on air pollution

On Thursday, 8 December 2022, the Chief Medical Officer’s (CMO) annual report was published, focusing this year on the effect of air pollution on health, how it is changing, and solutions across a breadth of industries, including the NHS.
College response, with quote mark

While air pollution affects all age groups, children are more susceptible to the health effects posed by air pollution. Children who grow up in polluted areas are more likely to develop respiratory issues such as asthma and are at risk of slower development of lung function. 

The report also recognises that areas of high deprivation frequency have higher levels of traffic or industrial activities, and these more polluted areas may be more affordable to live in. As such, air pollution is recognised as a driver of health inequality. 

Key recommendations from the CMO air pollution report: 

  • Outdoor air pollution is falling and will fall further, provided we continue and accelerate the things we know work. 
  • As outdoor air pollution falls, indoor air pollution becomes a greater proportion of the problem.
  • The NHS is committing to halving its contribution to poor air quality within a decade while reducing health inequalities.
  • The training of healthcare staff should include the health effects of air pollution and how to minimise these, including communication with patients. 

Welcoming the report, Dr Camilla Kingdon, RCPCH President, said: 

As a Royal Medical College, we are dedicated to play our part in reducing air pollution, and therefore it is encouraging to read the Chief Medical Officers’ 2022 report. The report clearly sets out the health impacts air pollution can have across the life course, and confirms the different ways in which the health of children and young people is negatively impacted by high levels of air pollution.

I am particularly interested to see the link between health inequality and air quality addressed. Tackling health inequalities is core to RCPCH activity, and we have plans to further explore this emerging link with air pollution through 2023. We recently launched a fantastic toolkit which provides paediatricians with the skills to make a difference for children and families living in poverty. I encourage all RCPCH members to use it and upskill their practice. 

It is crucial for us as paediatricians not only to recognise the effect living in areas of high pollution has on the health of our patients but to understand how to reduce the impact of both indoor and outdoor pollution, using practical solutions. Through our climate change working group, we will be looking to take forward the report’s recommendation regarding embedding air pollution into training for healthcare professionals, and supporting our members with building confidence in addressing air pollution with patients in their clinics. 

As a College, we have long advocated that every child has a right to clean air. While this report recognises the progress achieved to date in cleaning our air, it also outlines the work that is urgently needed across all sectors to reduce air pollution. Stronger air quality targets are a key part of safeguarding the health of current and future generations, and we are pleased to support the progress of the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill through UK parliament, which is seeking to make #EllasLaw a reality. We remain committed to our advocacy on this topic throughout 2023.