A Royal Free London doctor has been awarded “London public sector “Changemaker” of the year 2021” award for his work tackling air pollution.

Dr Anant Patel, a respiratory consultant at the Royal Free Hospital, has won the Sustainable City Award. The awards celebrate the “power of the people” in creating sustainable ways of living for Londoners.

Dr Patel runs a busy lung cancer service and over the past year has also looked after COVID patients on continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) and volunteered on ITU. In addition he found time to raise awareness of the threat of air pollution and his work has ranged from teaching medical students to lobbying the government, as well as educating GPs and patients about its potentially life-threatening impact.

Dr Patel said: “What first got me thinking about air pollution was when we had the Sahara dust storm a few years ago and there was dust left on all the cars. I was researching chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at the time and lots of my patients were affected by the storm so I decided I needed to educate myself more about it.

“More recently and closer to home my mum has severe asthma. Her home is on a main road but when she went to stay somewhere with clean air for a while she was able to come off her medication and steroids, however as soon as she returned home she had to start retaking them.”

Shockingly every year air pollution is estimated to contribute towards up to 36,000 deaths each year in the UK – 9,000 in London alone. 

Dr Patel explains: “Over the last few years we’ve seen a really large increase in the numbers of patients we diagnosed with lung cancer who have never smoked. These are often younger patients and often women, devastated to learn of a diagnosis like this and desperate to understand why they have been affected in such a way. Unfortunately air pollution is a big part of that answer.

“Only by helping everyone breathe cleaner air can we make big inroads into lots of the public health impacts it has in our society.

The Royal Free London is committed to reducing the trust’s carbon emissions by 25% over the next four years and the NHS has announced it is committed to net zero carbon emission by 2040.

How can I reduce my risk and others to air pollution?

Ten ways Dr Anant Patel recommends you can reduce you and your family’s exposure to air pollution and help make changes:

1. For short journeys don’t take the car and if possible take back roads to walk or cycle to your destination where there will be lower amounts of hazardous particulates from car exhausts in the air.
2. On pavements avoid walking near the kerb, the further away you are from the road on the pavement the lower your exposure to particulates will be.
3. If possible try to avoid letting your small child walk or be in a buggy on pavements on busy roads. They are at almost the same height as car exhausts and therefore have increased exposure. Carry your baby in a sling or put your child on your shoulders. 
4. If you can afford to buy a fully electric car rather than a hybrid or petrol/diesel then do it.
5. In a car in traffic, the air intake is usually coming from close to the exhaust of the car in front, so I suggest, leave a gap, set the air intake to recirculation and ensure your air filters are serviced regularly.
6. Within the organisation you work in or the area you live get involved with measures to reduce air pollution. Your voice really does make a difference. 
7. Check to see if your energy supplier is a fully renewable supplier. Consider making the switch away from fossil fuels.
8. Food production and agriculture are significant sources of air pollution. I’ve been vegan for four years but if you don’t feel that’s achievable then why not experiment with your diet and introduce more meat free days and consider if you can reduce the amount of pollution you are indirectly responsible for. 
9. Ensure good ventilation when cooking indoors.
10. Consider carbon offsetting schemes which often involve tree-planting.

Please see cleanairhub.org.uk for more information and practical advice.

Dr Patel will be taking part in the panel discussion ‘The health sector and clean air: our critical role in tackling air pollution’ at the NHS Confed Conference on June 15.  

(Pic: Dr Anant Patel)