Number of children treated for respiratory problems up 30%

“Alarming” stats a “call to action”

By Julia Gregory, Local Democracy Reporter

Hospital beds are placed outside on London;s South Bank as a protest
Mums for Lungs campaigners (from left) Jemima Hartshorn, Ruth Fitzharris, and Jane Dutton with Oliver Lord, Head of UK and Campaigns for Clean Cities Campaign as London’s Diesel Pollution Ward for Children is revealed on the Southbank to highlight the effects of air pollution on children’s health. Photo: Simon Jacobs/PinPep

Parents said a 30% increase in the number of children treated for respiratory problems treated at a north London hospital over the last eight years is a “reminder” of the urgency to tackle air pollution.

A mother who took her son to A & E at the Whittington Hospital for respiratory problems when he was just 18 months said it has taken its toll on her child’s health.

Between 2015 and 2022 medics at the Whittington Hospital in Archway treated 4,878 children suffering from respiratory conditions – with 884 cases last year alone.

The hospital serves 500,000 residents in Islington and Haringey as well as offering services to people in Barnet, Camden, Enfield and Hackney. Last year medics there treated 884 cases of under 18s with breathing problems – up from 674 in 2015.

During the pandemic the numbers dropped to 330 in 2020 and 629 in 2021. The data was obtained by Islington councillor Praful Nargund who said it painted an “alarming” picture of the risk to children’s health.

The statistics do not reveal the cause of the children’s respiratory problems but cllr Nargund said it could have contributed to some of the cases could have been caused by air pollution.

The Barnsbury Labour ward councillor said: “There is a well-established link between the severity of air pollution and the negative impacts on children’s health.

“Children growing up in poverty are likely to be the most adversely affected, and given Islington has one of the highest rates of child poverty in London, this is an even more pressing issue in our borough.”

He added: “Poor air quality both exacerbates health inequalities and puts an unbearable strain on the NHS.”

Parent Lucy Facer first took her son to Whittington Hospital for breathing problems when he was a toddler.

She is one of the founders of Islington Clean Air Parents and said: “My son is one of these stats, he’s been admitted to A&E for respiratory problems several times since he was 18 months old, which started a few months after we moved to a busy road.”

Ms Facer said it can make it hard for her son to get a good night’s rest.

“I have noticed a connection between high air pollution episodes and his asthma, it often starts with him unable to lie down or go to sleep as he can’t catch his breath.

A night in A&E means more lost sleep and all of this impacts his ability to focus at school.”

Cllr Nargund said: “As a borough with one of the highest levels of air pollution in London, this concerning tend highlights the need to tackle the issue.”

He described it as a “twenty-first century crisis” and said he is concerned that air pollution is contributing to the problem.

Cllr Nargund said the number of admissions is concerning as children are “disproportionately affected by air pollution.”

He added: “It’s quite a call to action. We need to move more quickly and further and it’s about protecting our young kids and our neighbours.”

Ms Facer said: “The increase of children to the Whittington Hospital for respiratory illnesses is a reminder we need to urgently tackle the main sources of air pollution.

There is evidence high air pollution increases the effect of respiratory illnesses.”

According to government health data 7% of deaths of people of all ages in Islington in 2021 were “attributable to particulate air pollution”.

In 2020 a coroner ruled that nine-year-old Ella Kissi Debrah from south London died from asthma contributed to by exposure to excessive air pollution.

Cllr Nargund said: “This is a health crisis. We need to do more. It’s a really important factor that is not as well understood as it could be.”

It comes as London’s South Bank saw the “first diesel pollution ward” of hospital beds as Mums for Lungs, joined forces with the Clean Cities Campaign to drawing attention to the impact of air pollution on children’s health.

They were calling for diesel vehicles to be phased out of London by 2030. Barts respiratory doctor Anna Moore said: “The link between air pollution and respiratory conditions is well established, but many people don’t know that it has also been shown to affect every organ in the body. Research has connected air pollution to heart conditions, various cancers, babies’ development, dementia and even our mental health.”

Cllr Nargund is planning to host an event in early September to raise awareness about the impact of air pollution on children. He said in some parts of Islington nitrogen dioxide levels exceed EU limits and the overall air quality in Islington is worse than London and England averages.

The council introduced the controversial Low Traffic Neighbourhoods as part of its response to poor air quality, measures air quality at schools and has a network of school streets – closed to motor traffic at the beginning and end of the school day.

Some people have welcomed the LTNs as bringing a drop in traffic and pollution whilst others fear it deflects traffic elsewhere and make journeys longer.

Cllr Nargund’s comments come as Islington council is asking residents what they think about a “Liveable Neighbourhood” in Barnsbury and Laycock.

The council plans to make the area bounded by Caledonian Road, Holloway Road, Upper Street and Pentonville Road greener with more trees and reduce traffic which it said will make local streets quieter, less polluted and safer to walk and cycle around.

The council has held meetings and workshops and will follow up with a consultation on its designs later this year.

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