The data-driven study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research, analysed more than 120,000 patients over four years.

Research experts from the landmark Born in Bradford (BiB) programme scrutinised data from nearly 115,000 GP and 9,900 A&E attendances for respiratory problems, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, between January 2018 and December 2021.

In one of the biggest studies of its kind globally, they discovered a worrying trend when the daily levels of nitrogen dioxide – which forms part of the discharge from car exhausts - soared above recommended levels set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The team found that the condition of up to 35 per cent of patients with respiratory problems seeing their GP, and 49 per cent of those attending A&E, was linked to days with excessive air pollution. 

The combined cost of these pollution-related healthcare visits to the NHS during the Bradford study is estimated to be £2m – a financial burden higher than previously thought.

Professor Rosie McEachan, director of the BiB study and senior author of the report, said: “Some 500 people die in Bradford each year from respiratory disease and we know that air pollution is a contributory factor.

“Our research has shown that when air pollution is high, there is an increase in demand at our hospitals and GPs, which can put pressure on our services.

“We think previous research may have underestimated the impact of pollution on health care use, as it mainly focused on what happens immediately - on the day of the high pollution.”

She added: “Our study, which used anonymised data covering the entire Bradford population, broke new ground as for the first time we were able to assess the impacts of pollution that may only present later.

“These findings are a cause for concern for Bradford as the air quality tracking discovered that pollution levels were exceeded on an average of 157 days per year - 43 per cent of the time.”

Dr Brad Wilson, a consultant in the A&E department at Bradford Royal Infirmary, one of the busiest in the NHS, said: "GP and A&E services are under great pressures.

“This evidence shows how we can reduce those pressures by tackling air pollution.

“If our communities can breathe cleaner air then it is good for their health and good for the NHS.”

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