ULEZ backed by NHS doctors with London cycle ride of expanded zone’s boundary

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Doctors and campaigners say the greatest number of deaths attributable to air pollution in London’s outer boroughs

Doctors and healthcare workers in London have spoken out in support of the Ultra Low Emission Zone and are taking on a cycling challenge to highlight the impacts of air pollution on health.

Medics are backing a new Clean Air Wins campaign, warning that hospital wards are facing “a huge strain” from preventable illnesses.

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GPs, paediatricians, junior doctors, an emergency medicine doctor, a physiotherapist, an anaesthetist and a neonatologist will take part in Ride For Their Lives. Over three days they will cycle along the new boundary of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).

The zone is being expanded in August by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan - a move that is opposed by Conservatives who have put themselves forward to be their party’s candidate in next year’s mayoral race.

Dr Mark Hayden, a paediatrician from London and the cycle ride's organiser, said: "Too often the health benefits are ignored. Air pollution crosses the placenta and causes harm before birth, the damage accumulates throughout childhood and adult life. At a time when the NHS is already under immense pressure, air pollution is causing a huge strain on hospital wards across the country that could be prevented today.

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“The ULEZ works, particularly for reducing NO2, the main culprit in asthma. It is a small step in the right direction towards cleaner air and more safe active travel. So we're cycling to celebrate this expansion, and we call on all healthcare workers across London to speak up for safe air."

Dr Anna Moore, a respiratory doctor from London who is joining the cycle ride, said: “There is no organ in the body which is not harmed by air pollution. Our health service is under extraordinary pressure; waiting lists are too long, emergency services are overwhelmed. Cleaning up the air we all breathe would prevent or reduce so much illness - from diabetes to cardiovascular disease, strokes to dementia, asthma to COPD. Imagine the positive impact on our NHS if we did.”

Doctors are backing ULEZ with a Ride For Their Lives.Doctors are backing ULEZ with a Ride For Their Lives.
Doctors are backing ULEZ with a Ride For Their Lives. | Jo Rogers

Ride For Their Lives

The ride will take place this weekend (May 13-15) with riders travelling 250km over the three days to show their support for the changes to protect patients from air pollution, including a phase-out of the most polluting vehicles. On the route, they will meet with local decision-makers and campaigners to discuss ULEZ.


Saturday May 13: Havering - Redbridge - Enfield - Barnet - Harrow - Hillingdon

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Sunday May 14: Hillingdon - Hounslow - Richmond - Kingston - Sutton - Croydon

Monday May 15: Whyteleafe train station / Surrey then Bromley - Bexley then over the Dartford Crossing South to North and finishing in Bexley

Ride For Their Lives cyclists will travel along the boundary of the expanded ULEZ. Ride For Their Lives cyclists will travel along the boundary of the expanded ULEZ.
Ride For Their Lives cyclists will travel along the boundary of the expanded ULEZ. | Ride For Their Lives

Clean Air Wins

The riders are backing the campaign Clean Air Wins, supported by the UK Healthy Air Coalition, that has a mission to reduce air pollution in London.

Dr Ewan Wallace, part of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change’s ambassador network, said: “I'm a paediatric anaesthetist working in Glasgow and I've travelled down to be part of this weekend’s ride. We need to put lives above politics so we can all breathe clean air. The UK health sector should collaborate across regions and professions to support the ULEZ. This is a difficult, but necessary, step that will have a hugely positive impact on the health of people living in and visiting cities around the country. We have a Low Emission Zone being implemented in Glasgow in June, and I am delighted to support the ULEZ as an example of what can be done to change how we travel in urban areas.”

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Larissa Lockwood, director of Clean Air at Global Action Plan, the environmental charity behind Clean Air Day, said: “We applaud the health professionals undertaking this three-day cycle to draw attention to the health benefits of the ULEZ, which have too often been overlooked in the debate. Such actions also help to raise awareness about air quality more generally, as well as normalising grassroots action. With the ride taking place a month ahead of Clean Air Day on 15 June, we hope it inspires others to act. Participation through activities, individual behaviour change and using our collective voice to call for system-wide changes really does make a difference.”

Mark Watts, executive director of C40 Cities, said: "This is a wonderful way to highlight the health benefits for Londoners of the ULEZ expansion. Air pollution consistently comes top of the list of environmental problems that concern city residents worldwide, and the success of the ULEZ to date shows what a city can achieve with bold and science-based leadership. Ride For Their Lives is a truly inspiring way to celebrate this win for the health and wellbeing of all Londoners."

Doctors will ride the expanded ULEZ boundary. (Photo by Mark Hayden)Doctors will ride the expanded ULEZ boundary. (Photo by Mark Hayden)
Doctors will ride the expanded ULEZ boundary. (Photo by Mark Hayden) | Photo by Mark Hayden

Imperial College air pollution report

Last month a report by Imperial College, commissioned by the Greater London Authority, highlighted the serious and life-limiting risks of air pollution and how it affects multiple aspects of physical and mental health over the course of pregnancy and birth, child development, through to adulthood.

Scientists found that evidence suggests air pollution impacts fertility by lowering sperm count and motility. It can also impair normal foetal development in the womb, increasing the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight and pre-term births.

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The review highlighted that children living in London are particularly at risk of developing lifelong, chronic conditions, including poorly developed lungs, asthma, high blood pressure, inattention and hyperactivity, and mental illness. The health impacts of air pollution exposure continue well into old age, increasing the risk of stroke, dementia, cancer, multiple longer-term illnesses including respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and early death.

A previous Ride For Their Lives event. (Photo by Jo Rogers)A previous Ride For Their Lives event. (Photo by Jo Rogers)
A previous Ride For Their Lives event. (Photo by Jo Rogers) | Jo Rogers

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “Doctors and healthcare professionals see first-hand the harmful impacts of toxic air on Londoners’ health and it is fantastic that this amazing group will be raising awareness about the importance of expanding the ULEZ London-wide. Around 4,000 Londoners die prematurely each year due to toxic air, children are growing up with stunted lungs and thousands of people in our city are developing life-changing illnesses, such as cancer, lung disease, dementia and asthma.

“Expanding the ULEZ will have a transformative impact, with five million more Londoners being able to breathe cleaner air, fewer air pollution-related hospital admissions and important cost savings to the NHS. I wish all the riders taking part every success on their cycle of the new ULEZ boundary.”

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