Town hall chiefs query lack of air quality monitor for St George’s Hospital in Tooting

BY TOBY PORTER
toby@slpmedia.co.uk 

Hospitals are to be supplied with air quality monitors to warn patients and staff about toxic air alerts.

But town hall chiefs are angry St George’s Hospital in Tooting will not get one, while Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals will, even though they get fewer emergency patients.

About a third of London’s 2,200 healthcare facilities are in areas where average levels of nitrogen dioxide exceed legal limits.

The monitors in 10 hospitals will also gather data about the effect of the ultra low emission zone (ULEZ), which launches in central London on April 8.

The ULEZ will charge the most polluting petrol and diesel vehicles from £12.50 a day to enter the congestion charge zone.

It is due to be extended to the North and South Circular roads in October 2021.

The hospital initiative follows the launch of a pilot scheme fitting air monitors to the backpacks of schoolchildren.

A total of 100 monitors, including some in cars, will gather data under the Breathe London project.

They will give real-time information, enabling patients to be directed away from entrances where pollution is worst. “No idling” rules could be introduced for drivers.

But Wandsworth’s politician in charge of air quality has expressed “frustration and disappointment” that the pollution monitoring scheme does not include St George’s in Tooting.

The Mayor said his scheme would provide information that could help vulnerable patients avoid unnecessary exposure to pollutants.

St Thomas’ Hospital

But almost all the 10 hospitals identified in the scheme are less busy than St George’s and most treat fewer accident and emergency patients each year.

Pollution levels at St George’s are also impacted by having a number of bus routes terminate at the hospital with many left idling while their drivers await return journeys.

St George’s is served by 11 bus routes – including four that operate directly outside the hospital entrance in Blackshaw Road, and one – the 493 – that travels through its grounds.

The hospital, which serves not only Southwest London but also large parts of Surrey and Sussex, has a catchment area of 3.5million people.

Its accident and emergency department is one of the country’s busiest with about 173,000 patients treated there each year.

In contrast, the Mayor has chosen to install monitors at north London’s Whipps Cross Hospital with 153,000 A&E patients, east London’s Newham with 141,000, St Thomas’s with 150,000 and the Royal London with 155,000.

The council’s transport and air quality spokesman Councillor Jonathan Cook said: “It defies logic that such a busy hospital as St George’s has not been included in the Mayor’s plans.

“Given its location next to the busy A24 and its proximity to a large number of bus routes, many of which sit idling outside the entrance day after day, it really beggars belief that it’s not part of this initiative.

“Without the hard data this study could produce about local pollution levels in this part of Tooting, it will be harder to persuade the Mayor to invest in measures to tackle the problem or help NHS staff give patients and visitors advice and information on how to stay safe.

“We believe the Mayor should have a simple rethink and expand his scheme to make sure St George’s is included.”

Air pollution exacerbates lung conditions and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Children and the elderly are most at risk.

A 2017 study by King’s College London and the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change found average levels of nitrogen dioxide exceed legal limits in 596 of 995 health facilities in inner London and in 130 of 1,244 in outer London.

Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “I am working with London’s leading hospitals to install air pollution monitors and help find new ways to reduce pollution and protect patients.

“Vulnerable hospital patients are more susceptible to the harmful effects of our toxic air pollution health crisis that harms lung growth and is linked to asthma, cancer and dementia.

“I’m doing everything in my power to protect Londoners from polluted air including cleaning up our bus and taxi fleet, and establishing the largest air quality monitoring network of any major city.

“We are now counting down to the world’s first 24-hour seven-day-a-week Ultra Low Emission Zone in the central London congestion charge zone, which will help clean our air and reduce NOx road transport emissions in central London, including around many hospitals, by 45 per cent.”

A spokesman for the Mayor of London said: “The current scheme is a pilot, providing an initial 10 air quality monitors at major London hospitals.

We’re pleased that a number of other hospitals have expressed an interest in the project and we are looking at expanding it to include more hospitals in the capital.”

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