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Thousands of children under five admitted to London’s hospitals with breathing difficulties

Although air pollution is invisible a leading campaign group have exposed the very real affects it is having on children’s health.

This morning, Monday 24th June, Mums for Lungs – a nationwide air pollution charity – published figures obtained through freedom of information requests that showcase the dire affects high pollution levels can have on people’s life.

The requests were sent to NHS trusts across London and revealed that last year 15,206 children under five were admitted to hospital with serious breathing difficulties. Whilst this heartbreaking statistic upset campaigners from Mums for Lungs, they weren’t the only ones. The discovery has prompted calls to speed up the removal of all diesel vehicles by at least 2030, with some limited exceptions.

What’s more, parents in the capital city have been hanging bay grows that spell out ‘Clean Air Now’ near areas affected by high levels of pollution, all in breach of World Health Organisation (WHO) standards. The WHO guidelines state annual average concentrations of particulate matter (PM 2.5) should not exceed 5 µg/m3.

Research from Public Health England, which covered 2022/23, supports campaigners right to be disgusted by such findings. Figures show that across England as a whole, 15,328 children aged 19 or under were admitted into hospital for serious asthma attacks alone and in London, the figure was 2,705.  

Commenting on the findings, Dr Anna Moore, a respiratory doctor who works in a London NHS hospital, said: ‘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.’

In London, air pollution monitors continue to show high levels of some of the most dangerous forms of pollution – including nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and PM2.5. Due to the small size of many of the particles some of these toxins may enter the bloodstream and be transported around the body, lodging in the heart, brain and other organs. Exposure to PM 2.5 can result in serious impacts to health, especially in vulnerable groups of people such as the young and elderly.

‘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,’ Jemima Hartshorn, of Mums for Lungs, said. ‘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.’

Road transport is the largest contributor to air pollution in the capital and it’s thought that air pollution contributes to around 4,000 early deaths each year in London.

Mums for Lungs have written to the main political party leaders Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer calling for them to discourage people from buying diesel vehicles and to set a target for England to be diesel-free by 2030, with limited exemptions, alongside action on wood burning and creating more School Streets, which restrict car use at drop off and pick up.

Image: Patty Gambini / Mums for Lungs

More on this topic:

Air pollution could contribute to dementia and brain ill-health, researchers claim

Great Ormond Street to examine indoor air pollution before diagnosing illnesses

Emily Whitehouse
Writer and journalist for Newstart Magazine, Social Care Today and Air Quality News.

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