UK’s first air pollution clinic for children to open in Tower Hamlets

The air pollution clinic will be based at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. Pic: Chris L L/Wiki Commons

The UK’s first environmental air pollution clinic for children is set to open in Tower Hamlets in early 2023.

It will be based at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel and aims to improve the health of children living in East London, which suffers from high levels of pollution.

The clinic was established after Barts Charity awarded a £500,000 grant to the Blizard Institute at Queen Mary University of London and could act as a model for similar services in the NHS in the future.  

It will examine the impact of air pollution on children by identifying where they encounter toxic air on a daily basis.  

Upon visiting the clinic, devices will be installed into children’s homes to measure particles, chemicals, mould and damp.

Each child will also be given portable devices to place in their backpacks to measure pollution at school as well as during their journey.  

A detailed exposure report will be produced for each child based on the evidence gathered.

These reports will have recommendations to reduce exposure such as avoiding pollution hotspots and ventilating the home while cooking.

The risks of breathing in polluted air for children is a problem that the NHS has not yet been able to address, which is highlighted by the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, who died from an asthma attack in south-east London in 2013.

The coroner found that air pollution exposure, primarily traffic emissions, was one of the three causes of Ella’s death and doctors had not discussed the effects of air pollution on her asthma, despite the fact her family were living on a main road.

Professor Jonathan Grigg, a consultant respiratory paediatrician at the Royal London Hospital and professor of paediatric respiratory and environmental medicine at Queen Mary University of London, said: “There is an urgent need to reduce children’s exposure to air pollution to reduce the likelihood of them developing or aggravating asthma and other allergic disease. The health impact of the air within our homes and schools needs to be taken seriously as a significant source of ill health.

“Currently no NHS clinical service has the expertise to address the breathed environment of their patients and it is this major clinical gap that we propose to tackle by developing the first UK children’s environmental assessment service.” 

Fiona Miller Smith, chief executive of Barts Charity, said: “We are proud to support this critically needed air pollution initiative which could potentially improve the lives of so many vulnerable young people in East London. As a charity we are committed to enabling cutting-edge innovation that tackles the health inequalities that exist within our communities.” 

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