Chief Medical Officer Report Absolves Government of Air Quality Responsibility

05 March 2018, Ross Matthewman

Following the publication of the Chief Medical Officer’s annual report, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) has cautiously welcomed the findings but expressed concern that the conclusions absolves central government of responsibility on improving air quality.

Professor Dame Sally Davies's ninth independent report as CMO discusses the threat to health posed by pollution to people living in England.

This year’s report presents evidence and debate around key issues such as pollution caused by healthcare, pollution and health inequalities, new pollution issues, and measurement and communication of risks.

The Chief Medical Officer makes 21 recommendations to government, the NHS, Public Health England, and other agencies, for action to improve the health system’s response to all types of pollution.

CIEH has welcomed the report and praised its ambition in bringing together all of the key issues. However, there are concerns that the focus on local authorities and public health professionals to deliver change has given central government a free pass on their role in implementing positive change.

CIEH Head of Policy, Tony Lewis, said:

“Having worked closely with the Chief Medical Officer and her team on this comprehensive and detailed report, we are happy to see that environmental health is rightly awarded its own chapter in recognition of the importance it plays in pollution control at the local level.

We are also pleased to see that issues around noise and light pollution are given appropriate recognition in respect of the impact that they have on health and well-being.

We are delighted to see that Dame Sally recommends the Greater London Authority and Public Health England undertake a full evaluation of the impact of the Mayor of London’s measures to tackle air pollution near schools – we sincerely hope that the whole UK can learn from this.

The view that local authorities should consider all forms of pollution during the planning process is very welcome, and we fully support the recommendation that local authorities are strongly supported by Public Health England in terms of the provision of up to date health data and pollution toolkits.

However, we are disappointed with the conclusion that Local government, and public health professionals in particular, must seize the opportunity to improve the health of their local population by implementing concrete, evidence based actions to address pollution. Although local authorities should be encouraged to act where they can, this does not absolve central government of their very clear responsibility in leading in this area, and the need for a new Clean Air Act.

Despite the almost universal criticism of the Government’s NO2 strategy, and the successful legal challenges mounted against the Government by ClientEarth, we are bemused that the report considers the Government’s strategy document to be “good”. 

CIEH does not support this view, and considers the Government’s present approach to this vital issue as being wholly inadequate.”


Notes to editors 

  1. The Chief Medical Officer’s Report can be read here.

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About the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH):   

CIEH is the professional voice for environmental health representing more than 8,000 members working in the public, private and non-profit sectors. It ensures the highest standards of professional competence in its members, in the belief that through environmental health action people's health can be improved. 

Environmental health has an important and unique contribution to make to improving public health and reducing health inequalities. CIEH campaigns to ensure that government policy addresses the needs of communities and business in achieving and maintaining improvements to health and health protection.  

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