Health Secretary orders review of the health impact of air pollution

Health Secretary Matt Hancock orders a national review of the impact of air pollution ‘slow poison’ on the nation’s health

  • Mr Hancock’s review will uncover the true scale of pollution health damage
  • It comes after both the Government’s Clean Air Strategy in January
  • And Public Health England released a review of air pollution in March 

The Government’s Department of Health and Social Care will produce an in-depth review of how bad air pollution is for people’s health, it has announced.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has commissioned the investigation which will reveal the true dangers of dirty air and how they will affect people in the future.

His announcement comes just two months after Public Health England – also a government department – released its own report on how to improve air quality.

And Mr Hancock and Environment Secretary Michael Gove released their Clean Air Strategy just five months ago in January, which promised to cut down on pollution.

The Health Secretary called pollution a ‘slow and deadly poison’ days after experts warned Britons breathe in the equivalent of a cigarette a day. 

The Government’s Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has ordered a review into how much illness air pollution causes people in the UK

‘Our health is shaped by the environment we live in and dirty air is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK,’ Mr Hancock said, according to The Guardian.

‘We cannot underestimate the very real impact that dirty air – this slow and deadly poison – is having on our lives, our health and our NHS.’

The review will help officials to ‘map out’ how much disease is caused by pollution and how many lives the clean air strategy could save.

It was announced as hundreds of people protested on the streets of London last weekend in a Mothers Rise Up march to demand action on climate change. 

The review adds to commitments from the NHS to reduce emissions from its vehicles by 20 per cent within five years.

And by 2028 at least 90 per cent of NHS vehicles will use low-emission engines, while the DHSC claims coal and oil-powered central heating will be phased out in health service buildings.

Mr Hancock added: ‘Our recent clean air strategy sets out some bold steps on cleaning up our air, but it is also vital that we have accurate long-term data on the potential health impacts of pollution.

‘This review will help us map out how much disease is caused by dirty air and what steps we are taking to prevent this – something which is at the heart of our work to help people live longer, healthier lives through the NHS long-term plan.’

Mr Hancock’s announcement came as the Mothers Rise Up protest took place in London at the weekend, with people demonstrating in the streets to demand action on climate change

The anti-global warming group marched in London on Sunday, May 12, as part of the Our Kids’ Climate international campaign

Experts warned last week that British people breathe in the equivalent of a cigarette a day in air pollution.

The Royal College of Physicians and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said politicians are not taking air pollution seriously enough.

Ministers are doing the bare minimum on curbing traffic fumes, they argued, distracted instead by less concerning problems such as wood stoves.

Professor Stephen Holgate, the Royal College of Physicians’ special adviser on air quality, said the Government is not acting on damning evidence.

He told The Times : ‘In the United Kingdom [air pollution exposure] is equivalent to every single person smoking one cigarette a day.

‘Of course since it’s affecting three to five per cent of the population in a much greater way, it would be equivalent to smoking many more cigarettes in those areas.’

Dirty air, Professor Holgate said, speeds up the ageing of peoples skin, brain, pancreas and eyes, raising the risk of disease.


In January 2019, Environment Secretary Michael Gove launched a new strategy to clean up the UK’s air.

The Clean Air Strategy aims to cut the costs of air pollution to society and the NHS by £1.7billion every year by 2020, rising to £5.3billion every year from 2030.

The main aim is to reduce people’s exposure to particulate matter (PM), identified as one of the most damaging pollutant by the World Health Oganization, as well as other dangerous pollutants, including NO2, NOx.

Strategies include ending the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040.

Mr Gove said the UK was going far further than every other country in the EU to tackle emissions from cars. 

The sale of pollutant fuels, such as wood burning stoves and fuel for open fires such as coal, will also be prohibited by 2022. 

Farmers will be required to reduce their fertiliser use and equipment that contributes to emissions.

Mr Gove said: ‘The evidence is clear: while air quality has improved significantly in recent years, air pollution continues to shorten lives, harm our children and reduce quality of life.’

Critics of the strategy said there needs to be clearer framework, details and deadlines.

Campaigners believe deadlines are too far away, and Greenpeace said the end of petrol and diesel cars should be within the next decade.

The UK is currently in breach of European safety levels for nitrogen dioxide and has been threatened by the European Commision over its longstanding failures. But after Brexit, the UK will no longer be subject to EU legislation on air pollution.

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