Better disease control in public buildings ‘could save UK billions a year’ | Health

Imposing improved ventilation and other forms of disease control in public buildings could save the UK economy billions of pounds every year through the prevention of health problems and their societal impacts, according to a report .

This is the first study to comprehensively assess the health, social and economic costs of airborne infections, including Covid. Even without a pandemic, seasonal respiratory disease costs the UK around £8billion a year in disruption and sick days, according to the report by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers. In the event of another severe pandemic over the next 60 years, the cost to society could reach £23 billion a year.

However, implementing improved ventilation in all buildings that need it could save at least £3bn a year – the figure could be higher as the calculation did not include estimates wider for improved health and well-being, for example increased alertness and productivity as a result of improved air quality. The greatest gains could be made by improving ventilation and other forms of infection control in public buildings such as schools, hospitals and local community buildings such as libraries and care homes, where occurs most of the transmission.

“Yes, it costs money, and yes, there are complexities, but the benefits are there from an economic point of view,” said Cath Noakes, professor of environmental engineering for buildings at the University. of Leeds, who contributed to the report. “The pandemic has warned us of the risks ahead and we need better buildings to help us live with Covid and future illnesses. Now is the time for a major upgrade to our indoor environments. »

The report, which was commissioned by former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance in 2021, made eight recommendations for enshrining infection resilience in building regulations and improving the health of indoor environments.

“Probably the biggest change is that we need to up our game in terms of meeting safe and healthy building performance standards,” said Professor Shaun Fitzgerald of the University of Cambridge, a member of the task force that produced the report.

Although new buildings must meet certain air quality and ventilation standards during their design and construction, they are not necessarily checked to ensure that fans, filters and windows continue to operate as expected or if the use of a building changes over time.

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The report was welcomed by Vallance, as well as those campaigning for better air quality during the pandemic.

Vallance said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has clearly shown how important infrastructure and the built environment are to our health. I hope this report will encourage the coordinated, system-wide approach, collaboration and innovation needed across government, academia and industry to bring about the recommended transformational change.

Dr Stephen Griffin, a virologist at the University of Leeds and a member of Independent Sage, said: ‘We need to achieve the same kind of standards for air that we have for water. We no longer tolerate dirty water because we know how harmful cholera was. Let’s do the same for the air.

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