Road closures during school hours could be costing lives, warns head of private ambulance service

Road closures banning traffic from certain streets during school hours could be costing lives rather than saving them, the head of a private ambulance service has warned.

Concern over the impact of pollution has led a number of councils to impose tight restrictions on the use of vehicles near schools during drop off and pick up time.

The School Street Road Closure scheme has proved especially popular in London where air pollution was recently ruled as a factor in the death of a nine-year-old girl who suffered a fatal asthma attack.

But medics, who work for an ambulance service in north London, have written to the Mayor of Hackney council, pointing out that the system is leading to traffic chaos elsewhere which is making it difficult to respond to emergencies.

The Hatzola Ambulance service, which is staffed by volunteers and operates mainly within the Jewish community, has said their response times have been hugely impacted by the road closures.

Paramedics working for Hatzola said demand for their service has rocketed during the pandemic and they have been helping to ease pressure off the London Ambulance Service during the recent surge in coronavirus emergencies.

But they warned that the road closures were compromising their ability to reach patients in time.

In his letter Gabriel Schleider, writing on behalf of the Hatzola trustees, said: “Instead of reducing congestion the road closures shift traffic to the surrounding roads which means our medical technicians are delayed in reaching those who need urgent help.

“A delay of just a few minutes really does make a difference to those in life-threatening situations and we urge you to reconsider this scheme which has the potential to cost lives rather than save them.

“We are committed to working in partnership with you to create a greener Hackney. We wholeheartedly support your desire to tackle congestion and improve air quality at the school gates, but we do not believe this should be done at the expense of saving lives.”

The introduction of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods across parts of the capital, including Hackney, has further compounded the problems with many residential roads physically blocked off with barriers to reduce traffic flow and pollution.

In a statement Philip Glanville, the Mayor of Hackney, said: “School Streets temporarily close roads outside school gates for an hour at opening and closing times to improve road safety and help children walk and cycle to school.

“I really value the work that Hatzola does in Hackney. Both officers and I have had extensive engagement with them and the wider community about these interventions and been very clear that emergency services — including Hatzola — are exempt from School Streets restrictions when responding to emergencies. 

He added: “While we believe School Streets have a minimal impact on traffic in surrounding areas, we are monitoring traffic levels, listening to stakeholders and will make adjustments to schemes if necessary. 

“With 160 people killed or seriously injured on Hackney’s roads in 2018, and one of the highest premature death rates in the country from poor air quality, we are also clear that not tackling traffic outside our schools in any part of Hackney is unacceptable.” 

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