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Children in London’s most deprived boroughs at greatest risk of asthma attack

Eight of the ten boroughs with the highest rates of hospital admissions were in outer London (AFP via Getty Images)
Eight of the ten boroughs with the highest rates of hospital admissions were in outer London (AFP via Getty Images)

Children living in London’s most deprived boroughs are at greater risk of an asthma attack when they return to school, a charity has warned.

Analysis of the most recent NHS data by Asthma + Lung UK found a 187 per cent jump in the number of children in London with asthma being admitted to hospital between August and September 2021.

Brent in outer London had the highest number of emergency hospital admissions for children with asthma, followed by Lewisham and Barking and Dagenham.

Children living in these areas experience levels of deprivation that are twice as high as Barnet, which had the lowest number of admissions.

As asthma emergency hospital admissions in children rose, there was also an average 43 per cent increase in monthly air pollution levels across London. Previous studies have shown that air pollution levels are higher in more deprived areas.

Asthma attacks usually spike when children return to school after the summer holidays as pupils are more exposed to colds, viruses or dust mites in a school setting. Children may also fall out of their usual preventer inhaler routines over the summer break, leaving them more vulnerable to an asthma attack when they return to school.

Children are also particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollution due to their faster breathing rates. This leads to heightened exposure to lung infections, and the worsening of existing lung conditions.

The five London boroughs with the highest asthma admissions rates for children up to nine, per 100,000 children:

  • Brent - 302.2 admissions

  • Lewisham (284.2)

  • Barking and Dagenham (241.2)

  • Redbridge (222.3)

  • Southwark (219.4)

Eight of the ten boroughs with the highest rates of hospital admissions were in outer London, the data showed.

Asthma + Lung UK said the reasons for the inequalities could include children living in poorer quality housing with issues like damp and mould that can trigger asthma attacks, or parents are less able to afford the travel costs to attend medical appointments.

Previous research by the charity has found that 40 per cent of the most deprived neighbourhoods have levels of the toxic air pollutant nitrogen dioxide that are above UK legal limits, compared with 20 per cent of the least deprived.

Tim Dexter, Clean Air Lead at Asthma + Lung UK, told the Standard that the next few weeks are a “potentially risky time” with admissions set to peak in the capital.

“This data highlights the worrying trilemma of deprivation, air quality and asthma symptoms. It’s unacceptable that a child with asthma in Brent or Lewisham who have the highest levels of air pollution and deprivation, is more likely to experience an asthma attack over the coming weeks than a child in Barnet or Kensington & Chelsea.”

He said that schemes such as Ulez, which was recently expanded to outer London, would help to “improve air quality and help protect children’s lungs”.