Air pollution could be contributing to as many as 473 deaths in Tayside and Fife every year.
That’s according to a coalition of 72 leading local NHS professionals who are highlighting the links between the climate crisis and public health.
Dundee GP Dr Munro Stewart, 35, co-ordinated the letter in response to Dundee City Council’s latest Low Emission Zone consultation.
It makes a powerful case for extending active travel schemes, cutting emissions and improving access to green space.
Dr Stewart said: “Biodiversity loss and the climate crisis are going to be the biggest health problems this century.
“We get into healthcare because we want to help people. But working in general practice it becomes apparent that sometimes what people need is out of their hands.
“It’s [co-ordinating the letter] another way of me doing my job.”
Is air pollution responsible for hundreds of Dundee deaths?
It is extremely rare that air pollution is given as cause on a death certification.
London nine-year-old and asthma sufferer Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah became first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as the cause of death on her death certificate in 2020.
Royal College of Physicians research cited in the letter suggests, however, that polluted air could be a significant factor in as many 473 deaths in Tayside and Fife every year.
Dr Stewart added: “Dundee has two of the most polluted streets in Scotland and with the harm from air pollution in the UK being equivalent to over 40,000 deaths a year, this would equate to 473 deaths every year in Tayside and Fife, based purely on population extrapolation.
“Air pollution causes headache, lung disease, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. Pregnant women and unborn babies are especially vulnerable.
“There is some evidence of association with learning and behavioural difficulties, obesity, and increased risk of chest infections.
“Harm is being done now in our areas. Cleaner air will improve quality of life. It will improve longevity and it will reduce disease.”
The letter highlights mounting concern among NHS workers in Dundee, Fife, Perth and Kinross and Angus over climate change.
The letter states “the worsening climate crisis is a public health emergency which will dwarf Covid-19 in terms of impact on our population’s health.”
Its signatories include GPs, consultants, pharmacists, surgeons and non-executive members of NHS Tayside board.
They include Dr Tom Fardon. Dr Fardon is the Ninewells respiratory consultant who became known for his Covid-19 updates during the pandemic.
Who is Dr Munro Stewart?
Dr Stewart lives in the west end of Dundee and works in the Nethergate Medical Centre.
“I did this [co-ordinate the letter[ because I saw an opportunity.
“My hope was that by presenting the evidence on how we can make major improvements to health, tackle climate change and save money – we could get some real change that improves lives.”
Open Letter to Dundee, Angus, Perth & Kinross, North Fife Councilshttps://t.co/jFlTCTnWXz
From healthcare workers in support of clean air, safe active travel and access to green and blue space
— Munro Stewart (@mdcstewart) August 18, 2021
The letter argues for active travel lanes to become a permanent fixture. They were first installed on a temporary basis during the early days of the pandemic.
The signatories also want better measures to improve access to green space. While welcoming a number of measures, it argues local climate mitigation measures are too patchy and too slow.
A Dundee City Council spokeswoman confirmed the eight-week consultation on the final plan for the city’s Low Emission Zone (LEZ) had recently closed.
“Dundee’s LEZ will help achieve air quality compliance while also developing an environment that helps to promote more active and sustainable travel choices,” she said.