Outer London’s worst asthma hotspots revealed as mother tells of impact on 5-year-old son

Vehicles queuing in heavy traffic in London  (PA Archive)
Vehicles queuing in heavy traffic in London (PA Archive)

Ealing has the highest number of people receiving care for asthma in outer London, according to new research.

A study from charity Asthma + Lung UK, has found that Southall alone has nearly a quarter (23%) of the top 30 GP practices in London where asthma treatment is most prevalent.

The data reveals 24 out of the 30 GP surgeries with the highest rates of asthma prevalence are in outer London, with 70% of these surgeries within just one mile of some of the busiest roads in the capital, including the A40, A127, and A41. These roads and the areas near them, currently exceed annual air quality levels set by the World Health Organization.

The charity’s figures show the vast majority of GP surgeries (80%) are not currently in the capital’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone. Out of the top three GP surgeries with the highest numbers of asthma suffers, Ealing had two of the worst affected.

Meadow View in Ealing is the most badly affected clinic in outer London with an asthma prevalence rate of 10.7 per cent. Camden Health Improvement Practice is also badly affected with 9.8 per cent asthma prevalence amongst patients, while Nursing Home Services in Ealing has the third highest rate with 8.6 per cent of people affected.

All of these centres are 1 mile or less from a main road. In outer London, Ealing was found to be the worst for asthma sufferers followed by north London neighbour Hillingdon and the South London borough of Sutton.

Asthma + Lung UK found that 6 of the top 10 GP surgeries with the highest asthma rates were near polluted roads and have a larger proportion of children experiencing income deprivation compared to the London average.

This matches with research conducted by the Greater London Authority in 2019 which showed lower-income Londoners and people from an ethnic minority background are more likely to live in areas with toxic air.

Road traffic is responsible for over 40 per cent of London’s air pollution with cars emitting toxic nitrogen dioxide gas into the air and fine particles known as PM2.5, which are small enough to travel deep into our lungs and can result in stunted lung growth in children. While toxic air alone doesn’t cause asthma, it can worsen and trigger symptoms including wheezing, and sometimes leads to life-threatening asthma attacks.

Rosa Appleby Alis, from South Ealing, has seen the effect air pollution has had on her 5-year-old son, Max. She says that he has been in and out of A&E with asthma symptoms since he was 8 months old.

Rosa said: “Asthma is relentless - my son’s symptoms have meant over 26 trips to A&E since he was a baby including several days in a high-dependency unit. We live near the A4 and the north circular, and the air pollution caused by the constant traffic has certainly had an impact and made his breathing worse.

“We really noticed it on a recent trip to Wales as Max’s asthma totally cleared up for the week we were there only to return when we got back home. I know many local parents who have children with asthma and share my concerns about the poor air quality in Ealing. We must act fast to address the issue of air pollution for the sake of so many children like Max.”

Almost 1 in 3 asthmatic Londoners that were recently surveyed by Asthma + Lung UK said that their symptoms were made worse by the city’s toxic air. Air pollution has been linked to up to 43,000 premature deaths every year in the UK.

Virendra Sharma, MP for Ealing, Southall, said: “I am concerned for the thousands of people in my constituency who live with asthma and for whom dangerous levels of air pollution can be life-threatening. This new analysis shows that the majority of the GP practices in Southall are located close to busy roads that currently exceed World Health Organization guidelines on air quality.

“Air pollution is a social justice issue that disproportionately impacts Black, Asian and minority ethnic people who are also more likely to live in areas with poor air quality. We must act now to address this public health emergency.”

Councillor Deirdre Costigan, Deputy Leader of Ealing Council and Cabinet member for Climate Action, said: “The data revealed by Asthma + Lung UK demonstrates the link between busy roads and the prevalence of asthma.

“In recognition of this Ealing Council is publishing our new Air Quality Strategy which includes spending over £10m on active travel, providing more bike hangars at the cheapest rate in London and installing hundreds of electric vehicle charging points.”

Sarah Woolnough, CEO of Asthma + Lung UK, said: “This new analysis gives us a more detailed picture of what is happening on the ground at GP surgeries across the capital. It is clear from the data that GPs in the outer boroughs are treating a high number of people with asthma and that many of these surgeries are currently outside the ULEZ zone and within a stone’s throw of some of the capital’s most polluted A-roads.

“Breathing polluted air is particularly dangerous for the estimated 585.000 people currently living with asthma or COPD in the capital as poor air quality and fumes from cars can quickly inflame airways and trigger symptoms.

“This is where the planned ULEZ expansion in outer London can make a difference - it’s one of the bold steps we need to clean up the capital’s toxic air. Air pollution blights so many lives and puts the most vulnerable people at risk, impacting their everyday lives, whether it’s walking to school or going to work. If we’re going to stop another generation of Londoners growing up breathing in potentially lethal levels of toxic air, then we need to act now.”