The recent extension of the London ULEZ zone has been contentious with much public backlash to its introduction earlier this year.
The public see this as a direct impact to them as opposed to understanding the benefits to their ongoing health and wellbeing.
Experts say Clean Air Schemes lack available real-time health research essential to encouraging public support.
The media has been dominated by the recent introduction of the extended London ULEZ zone to encompass all London boroughs earlier this year following the increasing backlash from residents. Much of the argument had been about the financial impact of the scheme on drivers despite the relatively small number of affected vehicles. The communication during its consultation and introduction likely lacked information that would attract support from the public.
During the consultation process for ULEZ and many Clean Air Schemes across the country, the research and documentation do not offer resonance for residents with much focus on the pollutants in the air, from fine particulate matter alongside Nitrous Oxide, Ammonia and Sulphur Dioxide. Whilst this is required scientifically to measure the impact of vehicle emissions in the area, it has limited impact on gaining the understanding and support of the public.
Dr Bipin Patel, Health Tech expert and CEO of electronRx believes the research lacked the emotive elements needed to obtain public support: "The research undertaken by ULEZ, as an example, focused on facts and details that mean little or nothing to the people impacted by the scheme. In turn, the public focused on the costs. Whilst respiratory charities spoke of the positive impact on public health, there was little or no evidence to prove that Clean Air Schemes offered any serious health benefits to those in the area affected. And not just those with existing respiratory conditions such as Asthma and COPD. However, the cost to the NHS of pollution-related issues will reach £1.6 billion between 2017 and 2025, with 28,000 – 36,000 deaths per year in that period, according to the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID)[i]. The local councils considering such schemes must seriously consider health research to get the public support needed to ensure a successful introduction."
In its policy statement, the OHID[ii] said that short-term increases in levels of air pollution can affect lung function, exacerbate Asthma and COPD, and increase the number of respiratory and cardiovascular hospital admissions and mortality. Long-term exposure to air pollution can cause chronic conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and Lung Cancer.
With such high-risk factors for residents, including children and the elderly, this needs to be better researched, according to Dr Patel: "We have developed a technology that can read the real-time health of both the respiratory and cardiovascular system using a person's mobile phone. Using this exclusive technology, we can offer research that would provide a snapshot of the health of residents as a benchmark but also monitor the effects of introducing such schemes. Suppose local councils can prove that schemes, such as ULEZ, are positively impacting the health of children around schools, the elderly, those with conditions such as Asthma, and the wider community. In that case, you are likely to see people accept the scheme's benefits and prevent public backlash. Without it, every council will face cancellation and rejection of schemes already seen in cities across the UK."
Cambridge-based electronRx has developed the technology working alongside leading healthcare professionals and focuses on key metrics from the user's body, which includes respiratory and cardiovascular, two key areas positively impacted by improved air quality. The user can install the technology on any modern smartphone. It uses existing technology in the device to collect the data simply and with minimal effort by the user. This data gets stored securely in the cloud for use in research and by healthcare professionals.
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