Helping asthma sufferers breathe easier

MQT on 2019-03-21
Session date: 
March 21, 2019
Question By: 
Onkar Sahota
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


The death rate for young people with asthma in the UK is twice as high as the next worst European country. How are you working with health, transport, planning and other services to improve this picture in London?


Helping asthma sufferers breathe easier

Helping asthma sufferers breathe easier

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Chairman, can I thank Dr Sahota [AM] for this question?  It is simply unacceptable that young people in London and across the UK are experiencing a higher death rate from asthma compared to other European countries.  Our illegally polluted air is known to increase the risk of asthma and trigger asthma attacks, which is why I am determined to take the action needed to improve air quality once and for all.


To help clean up our toxic air, we have already delivered the T-Charge in central London for the oldest polluting vehicles and are cleaning up the bus and taxi fleets.  These measures are working.  In central London we have seen a reduction in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations of around 8%.  The seven Low Emission Bus Zones have so far reduced nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions by an average of 90%.


Despite opposition from the Conservatives, on 8 April [2019] I will launch the ULEZ in central London.  From this date, vehicles traveling into the ULEZ will need to meet tough emission standards or pay a daily charge.  It is expected that within the first two years the central London ULEZ will reduce harmful NOx emissions from road transport by 45%, improving air quality for millions of Londoners.


TfL’s Healthy Streets approach and Liveable Neighbourhoods programme will help to further reduce children’s exposure to poor air quality, as well as making it easier and safer to walk and cycle to school.  Our air quality audit programmes are helping to deliver improvements at 50 schools and we are working with the boroughs to roll it out more widely.  Our Draft London Plan is tackling air quality through tough standards for new buildings and by ensuring that the location of new education and childcare facilities reduces exposure to poor air quality.


While air pollution is a key factor in the exacerbation of asthma, high death rates are also partly due to a lack of awareness about the seriousness of the condition and patients missing out on basic asthma care.  I am in regular discussions not just with Dr Sahota [AM] but with other senior health leaders in London and have endorsed the Healthy London Partnership’s #AskAboutAsthma campaign, which supports London’s health and care professionals to reduce hospital admissions by ensuring every young person with asthma has an asthma management plan, knows how to use their inhaler and has an annual asthma review.


Dr Onkar Sahota AM:  Mr Mayor, thank you very much.  Of course, worldwide 9 million people die due to poor air quality and 7.3 million people die because of tobacco smoking, but yet we have a choice about smoking or not smoking.  We have no choice about the air we breathe.


You are to be congratulated.  This is another success you can add to your list.  You have taken air quality seriously, unlike your predecessor, who ignored the facts.  I want to congratulate you on the great effort you are making in this regard.


Of course, we know that there is a huge variation across London in asthma admissions and asthma attacks.  What are you doing to look at these inequalities that exist across London?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  This is a big issue.  You are right that many of us who have asthma have no choice.  You cannot patient‑blame in relation to this issue.  It is a big concern that I have, particularly when I know that those who suffer the worst consequences from poor air are the poorest Londoners.  That is one of the reasons why we are promoting a range of policies.


I make this point about the ULEZ that has been opposed by the Conservatives.  This will benefit the poorest Londoners the most --


Gareth Bacon AM:  Point of order.


Tony Arbour AM (Chairman):  Yes, point of order.


Gareth Bacon AM:  Under Standing Order 4.4: the Mayor has repeatedly said this morning that the GLA Conservatives Group is opposed to the ULEZ.  It is a matter of fact that we are not.  It has been in the public domain repeatedly.  We published two policy papers on this, the first in January 2017, the second one in October 2017.  The ULEZ, which was not conceived by this Mayor but by his predecessor Boris Johnson [MP, former Mayor of London], was supported by all parties and we have not resiled from that position.  Our opposition is to the Mayor rushing it in a year early and expanding it to the North and South Circulars.  It is very important to get that on the record.  It is not something that has been hidden.  It has been in the public domain for two years and the Mayor and the Labour Group have been deliberately misrepresenting that.  It is important that that is corrected.


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Let me be clear, Chairman.  It is really important because that is just not correct.  The Conservatives oppose my plans on the ULEZ.  The Conservatives oppose the ULEZ beginning on 8 April.  That means that the Conservatives oppose us fixing the air as soon as we can.  The Conservatives will have their heads in the sand while the air in London gets worse.  The Conservatives do oppose my plans for the ULEZ.  He can use his time ‑‑


Gareth Bacon AM:  Chairman, Standing Order 4.4.


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  This is again the Chairman being complicit in an abuse of process.


Gareth Bacon AM:  Chairman, Standing Order 4.4.


Tony Arbour AM (Chairman):  No.  We do have rules here.  They may appear to have deteriorated at this meeting, I am afraid.  Despite what I said at the beginning of the meeting, the infection has spread.


Gareth Bacon AM:  Under Standing Order 4.4, Chairman: the Mayor has just repeated that we are opposed to the ULEZ.  It is a matter of verifiable fact that we are not opposed to the ULEZ.  The policy papers where we have said that we acknowledge and accept the ULEZ, which are in the public domain, were published in January 2017 and October 2017.  We also supported the consultation that was undertaken by this Mayor’s predecessor, which had exactly the same ULEZ but it was going to be introduced one year later than his proposal.  We have set out our position and the Mayor has misrepresented it again, seconds after I corrected him.


Tony Arbour AM (Chairman):  All right.  Can we move on from arguing amongst ourselves, “He said this, he said that”?  Perhaps you can deal with the important question that has been raised by Dr Sahota [AM].


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Dr Sahota, what you have just seen now is a smokescreen from the Conservatives, who are failing to take action to clean up the air that has helped to cause the asthma.  The Conservatives are opposed to my plans to bring in the ULEZ on 8 April.  The Conservatives are opposed to us cleaning up the air sooner rather than later.  The Conservatives would have a situation where we have polluting vehicles coming into the heart of London and making our air worse for a long period of time.  Thanks to our policies, opposed by the Conservatives, the ULEZ will begin on 8 April.  When it is a success, they will give the impression they supported it all along.


Dr Onkar Sahota AM:  Mr Mayor, thank you very much for that very strong statement of great leadership in this area, which asthma sufferers across London will very much appreciate.  Also, let me say that asthma sufferers need to take their medications every day.


Are you confident that the Government’s plans for maintaining the supplies of this medication after Brexit are enough to give people confidence that they will have the medicine available to them?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  That is a really important question.  I know you are being heckled by the Brexiteers from the Conservative Group, but it is really important that we plan for the possibility of leaving the EU without any deal whatsoever.  There are concerns about the availability of medicines.  Many of our medicines are imported through the EU.  I have been told by the NHS that it has enough medicines for six months and they are advising patients and others not to stockpile medicines.  I have regular discussions with the NHS.  Fiona Twycross [AM and Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience] chairs the London Resilience Forum and meets regularly with colleagues from the NHS.  I am confident at the moment from the information we have been given ‑ and we rely upon the information we are given ‑ that the Government has plans in relation to a no‑deal Brexit and the availability of asthma pumps to those who need them, like me, like many of your patients and like many Londoners, particularly the poorest Londoners, who will benefit the most from my plans for the ULEZ, opposed by the Conservatives.  We need to make sure the Government does not have a no‑deal Brexit situation and we support all Londoners who will be affected by a no‑deal Brexit.


Dr Onkar Sahota AM:  Mr Mayor, about 12 children die from asthma in London every year and 170 children are admitted to intensive care units every year because of asthma.  A new scheme providing all state schools in Merton and Wandsworth with emergency asthma kits could help this.  Do you support this programme being expanded right across London?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  It is a cracking scheme.  It is in my area.  St George’s [University Hospital] and the NHS in Wandsworth and Merton deserve huge credit for this scheme.  This scheme is really good.  It will provide an emergency inhaler and will also raise awareness of asthma in schools by educating schools about how to help children who may have asthma and what to do if there is an asthma attack.  What I would like to see is this rolled out across London.  We have seen how it can work in Wandsworth and Merton.  As you explained, these are illnesses caused through no fault of the patient that are preventable, but some of the worst consequences are also preventable as well.  This is a good example and thank you for bringing this example to our attention.  I will make sure we do we can to amplify it.


Dr Onkar Sahota AM:  Good.  Thank you, Mr Mayor.