More than 800 young children were admitted to Homerton Hospital with breathing difficulties in 2023

Children take part in a Clean Air Day protest in Hackney. Photograph: Jamie Smith

More than 800 children under the age of five were admitted to Homerton Hospital with breathing difficulties in 2023, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

Campaign groups Mums for Lungs and Clean Air for Hackney Wick Kids discovered that, in total, 806 under-fives were hospitalised last year – an average of 16 children every week.

Across a total of 22 London hospitals surveyed, more than 15,000 children were admitted with serious breathing difficulties.

The figures have prompted calls to speed up the removal of all diesel vehicles by at least 2030, with some limited exceptions.

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 burners, major roads, and the redevelopment of highly contaminated land.”

She added: “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 kids in Hackney can learn and play in clean air.”

According to Air Quality England monitors on Dalston Lane, levels of nitrogen oxide (NO2) have reached 45 μg/m3 – above the UK legal limit of 40μg/m3.

The World Health Organisation advises that NO2 does not exceed 10μg/m3.

Air pollution is thought to contribute to around 4,000 early deaths each year in London, and road transport is the biggest culprit.

Jemima Hartshorn from 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”.

Mums for Lungs has written to 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.

They also want them to take action on wood-burning and to create more School Streets, which restrict car use at drop-off and pick-up times.

“The next national government, mayors and local authorities must all use their powers to phase out diesel vehicles and protect children from painful and debilitating health conditions,” said Hartshorn.