The impact of local toxic air pollution on our health is now a political priority. NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, is consulting on its draft guidance to local authorities and others. Want a say in what NICE recommends? Read on…..
No less than a health crisis
Imagine a new disease were discovered. We know it’s there, we’ve realised it is killing tens of thousands of people every year, we’ve identified the bacterium that causes it. How would government tackle it? Think COBRA meetings chaired by the Prime Minister, mass public information campaigns, ministerial edicts, a huge national effort from the NHS and everyone else who can help.
Well, that is broadly the air quality issue – except for the bit about action. Government action to date has concentrated on trying to defend a series of legal challenges by the environmental law group ClientEarth, which is seeking to enforce a clean-up. Why no action? Because the major urban pollution source is motor vehicles, and governments are terrified of motoring lobbies. As we said earlier this year, the motor lobby has far more influence than deprived children living next to major urban roads.
The NICE guidance
But at least the Department of Health asked NICE to develop some guidance, aimed at local authorities and others in the hope of prompting action on what is by any measure a grave public health threat. The NICE guidance is now at its consultation draft stage, until January 25th, and you can register as a stakeholder (if eligible) and add your expertise.
The Insall & Coe view, if it helps you to know, is that NICE is a highly credible and world respected source of guidance, and to have NICE speak on air quality is very important. But we consider the draft guidance to be much too timid. We think in 21st century Britain everyone should be able to breathe air that doesn't harm their health.
For example, NICE says that new housing should be aligned so that living rooms face away from highly polluted roads, and that ‘high-risk groups’ should avoid exercise and close doors and windows when pollution is bad.
That cannot be right! What kind of dystopia are we living in? The appropriate response is to keep the most polluting vehicles away and ensure that air quality reaches a standard where people can engage in normal daily activities. Even going so far as to sit in their front room if they wish. 'High-risk group' or not.
You may have noted media reaction to the launch of this consultation, with some commentators seeming to co-opt it into a campaign for more roads and faster traffic. NICE clearly needs to make the message clearer: Salus Populi Suprema Lex, more important than our selfish wishes as drivers.
It IS worth getting involved
NICE may have lost its nerve on air quality, but it is an exemplary in consultation: everything is transparent. So we do urge you to register as a stakeholder (or work through an existing stakeholder), contribute along these lines and ensure they toughen up the guidance.
NICE publishes its own evidence review, as you will see, but if you want a single heavyweight source book on air pollution we recommend Every Breath we Take, from an expert group led by the Royal Society of Physicians (declared interest, we helped them produce it).
And if it helps you at all, the Insall & Coe input to NICE is here. Copy anything you like.
Whether or not you contribute, the NICE guidance should be published in its final form in June 2017. You could print it out and then go and bang it down on your local authority CEO's desk.....