Health impacts of climate change are new front line for NHS, warn Scottish Greens
Tracking injuries and health impacts caused by the climate crisis should be front and centre of future planning for a resilient NHS in Scotland, the Scottish Greens have said.
The party’s health spokesperson Gillian Mackay MSP said increasing incidences of wildfires, flooding, heatwaves and sub zero temperatures are among the most obvious areas where risks to people are most acute. Concerns over air pollution in the face of opposition to emission busting initiatives such as Low Emission Zones, and the harm being done to mental health because of anxiety especially in the young, are also key factors, the Greens say.
This year, the Scottish Government’s own climate change adaptation programme progress report says heat related deaths could rise from 35 a year to almost 300 by 2050, while Scotland suffered 2000 excess winter deaths from cold in 2021. Friends of the Earth Scotland put the number of air pollution deaths at 2500.
Two fire-fighters were injured fighting the UK’s largest recorded wildfire at Cannich, while emergency services spoke of being dangerously stretched to the limit coping with serious flooding around the north-east. Drivers had a close escape and needed to be airlifted to safety after landslides in Argyll and Bute and surrounding areas. Two people were killed in Scotland during Storm Babet after a tree struck a car and a woman was swept away by a river, among others being reportedly injured.
Mackay said: “The climate crisis has brought increased risk to safety here now as we saw close up this year with the UK’s largest wildfire on record at Cannich, the major flooding that has engulfed communities, record summer temperatures and extreme weather events. This is the new front line of the climate crisis for Scotland.
“At the same time, studies show that 73% of young people asked in a poll commissioned by the BBC said they had anxiety over the planet, and a quarter of all young adults aged 22 to 44 surveyed by the Mental Health Foundation said they had climate anxiety. All this information needs to be pulled together to plan the resilience of our health service but also to ensure we are targeting the correct areas for change.
“We know that Public Health Scotland is using place based and wholesale approaches to gather information, but we need intensive focus that builds on the likely upswing in cases over the coming decade and more. What levels of staffing, what facilities, what kind of equipment is needed where and when? Are vehicles suitable, are burns specialists in the right places, do we have adequate ability to transport blood in bad weather?
“We can be tracking the positive impact warmer, greener homes will have by making sure people can live in healthier conditions, how cleaner air in polluted areas with LEZs or less traffic is having, and the growing trend for walking, wheeling and cycling, can help demonstrate with evidence how we can improve conditions we can control. Knowledge is power, and we need to make sure it is available, transparent and put into the right hands.”
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