Cities suffer a surge in heart attacks and strokes when air pollution spikes, alarming new study reveals

  • Researchers compared hospital records in nine cities with environmental record
  • Found increase in short-term conditions as well as a wider long-term impact
  • The figures are released today by health network UK100 ahead of major summit 

Simon Stevens (pictured) has declared a health emergency for air pollution

Simon Stevens (pictured) has declared a health emergency for air pollution 

Britain is living through a ‘health emergency’ caused by polluted air, an NHS chief has warned.

Air pollution contributes to 36,000 deaths a year in England and causes significant health risks, it is claimed, with rates of cardiac arrests, strokes and severe asthma all rising as a result.

Experts at King’s College London found that significantly higher numbers of hospital admissions for these three health conditions occur when poor air levels spike. 

The researchers stressed these short-term effects are in addition to the long-term impact of air pollution, which is estimated to contribute to heart disease, dementia and respiratory conditions.

The researchers compared hospital records in nine English cities with environmental records. Over a year, they found that on days of high air pollution there was a total of 124 cardiac arrests, 231 strokes and 193 severe asthma attacks.

Reacting to the figures, Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, said: ‘As these new figures show, air pollution is now causing thousands of strokes, cardiac arrests and asthma attacks, so it’s clear that the climate emergency is in fact also a health emergency.

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‘Since these avoidable deaths are happening now – not in 2025 or 2050 – we need to act now.

‘For the NHS that is going to mean further comprehensive action building on the reduction of our carbon footprint of one fifth in the past decade.’

The figures are released today by health network UK100 ahead of the International Clean Air Summit in London on Wednesday. Polly Billington, director of UK100, said: ‘Air pollution is a problem in towns and cities across the country, with children and adults being hospitalised for life threatening conditions.

‘That is an individual tragedy for each of them, and collectively a huge burden on our NHS. Local government needs additional powers and resources to address this public health crisis.’

A Defra spokesperson said: ‘We are taking urgent action to improve air quality and tackle pollution so people can live longer healthier lives.

‘Our landmark Environment Bill will set ambitious, legally-binding targets to reduce fine particulate matter and increase local powers to address key sources of air pollution.

‘We are already working hard to reduce transport emissions and are investing £3.5billion to clean up our air, while our Clean Air Strategy has been praised by the WHO as an ‘example for the rest of the world to follow.’

Experts at King’s College London found that significantly higher numbers of hospital admissions for these three health conditions occur when poor air levels spike.

Experts at King’s College London found that significantly higher numbers of hospital admissions for these three health conditions occur when poor air levels spike.



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