Over 400 children a day are hospitalised with breathing difficulties in London

Clean air campaign group Mums For Lungs have revealed some shocking statistics regarding hospital admissions for children suffering breathing difficulties in London.  

The group sent a  Freedom of Information request to NHS trusts across the city to find out the paediatric respiratory admission rates in 2023. 

Despite some NHS trusts failing to respond to the FOI, the data from those that did revealed that 15,206 children under five were admitted with serious breathing difficulties. Or 422 a day.

The West Middlesex Hospital in Hounslow reported the most admissions (2,122) in 2023. This is perhaps notable for being an outer London borough which was, amid some controversy, brought into London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone. Suggesting perhaps that action did need to be taken in those areas.

We recently reported on a Mums For Lungs campaign in Manchester, organised by AQN’s friend in the North Liz Godfrey, which was also energised by pediatric respiratory admissions statistics in the city. 

In that protest, as with the recent one in London, Mums For Lungs have been hanging up baby grows spelling out ‘Clean Air Now’ near areas affected by high levels of pollution, which are in breach of World Health Organization standards. 

Given the new figures which highlight the effect of air pollution on the UK’s children, Mums for Lungs are reiterating their call for alignment with the WHO guidelines, emphasising the disparity between the two:

UK legal annual limit values:  NO2 = 40μg/m³, PM2.5 = 20μg/m³.
WHO guidelines: NO2 = 10μg/m³, PM2.5 = 5μg/m³

Looking at the UK as a whole Mums for Lungs also quote figures from Public Health England that reveal 15,328 children under 19 were admitted to hospital for serious asthma attacks in 2022/23.

As road transport is the largest contributor to air pollution in London, contributing  to around 4,000 early deaths each year, Mums for Lungs have written to the main political party leaders calling for them to discourage people from buying diesel vehicles and to set a target for England to be diesel-free by 2030, alongside action on wood burning.

Jemima Hartshorn, Mums for Lungs, said: ‘Thousands of children are unable to breathe because of preventable air pollution, this must change. So many children are being admitted to hospitals with serious cases of asthma, and all the evidence shows that damaging lungs at an early age can cause lifelong health conditions. The next national Government, Mayor and local authorities must all use their powers to phase out diesel vehicles and protect children from painful and debilitating health conditions.’

Dr Anna Moore, a respiratory doctor who works in a London NHS Hospital, added: ‘All the evidence shows that there is a clear connection between high levels of air pollution and respiratory conditions. These figures also demonstrate that there are hundreds of children who are in hospital with conditions that could be prevented. At a time when NHS resources are stretched thin, we need to urgently clean up our air, including completely phasing out the most heavily polluting diesel cars, trucks and vans and focus on infrastructure which enables safe walking and cycling as this is vital for long term health.’

The group have spoken to mothers across the capital, who have been voicing their concerns: 

Alice Potter, a parent who lives in Greenwich said: ‘My whole family have been prescribed inhalers to help them breathe in the last 2 years since lockdown ended, including two overnight stays in the hospital and one with a two-year-old. The borough of Greenwich presents as being a leafy and clean place but it’s polluted with toxic air and nobody knows – not my neighbours, colleagues or friends. It’s a major health and public awareness issue. We’re destroying ourselves to maintain the status quo of convenience.’

Lisa Huxley-Blythe, a parent who lives in Hackney, said: ‘We worry a lot about how the air quality in our area of Hackney is affecting our kids. They are growing up next to wood burning, major roads and the redevelopment of highly contaminated land. Little lungs are most affected by air pollution, so we want Clean Air Zones around schools and air filters in classrooms (like they have in the House of Commons), so all the kids in Hackney can learn and play in clean air.’

Celeste Hicks, a parent who lives in Lambeth, said: ‘It’s terrible that so many children are being hospitalised with breathing difficulties. I’ve been worried about our polluted air since I was pregnant with my first child, and he’s nearly 10 now. I regularly smell the pollution in the air on our walk to school. We are doing this because we have to reduce the number of cars on our roads, the next government must do more to ensure that no child has to grow up breathing polluted air.’

Paul Day
Paul is the editor of Public Sector News.


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26 days ago

Thank you. Shocking numbers. What does the Dept. of Education have to say? If a pupil is struggling to breathe, for whatever reason, they will not be able to concentrate and might be mistaken for being lazy. Not all asthma is from plant and pet allergies,although some of the hospitalizations might have been from that, or from colds that became bronchitis? Would be interesting to see a breakdown.of the possible causes.

Graham Parry
Graham Parry
27 days ago

Useful to see these issues highlighted although it would be interesting to see how the figures breakdown between rural and urban authorities. Additionally, the results for Hounslow, which of course has a large number of very busy roads is also overflown by Heathrow flights, and therefore the ULEZ cannot control that specific contributor to air pollution.
It also remains the case that a large number of young children present with asthma and other breathing difficulties in areas of London where both NO2 and particulates are relatively low.

Overall, what this means is that far more detailed health related scientific studies need to be carried out

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