Could standing at polluted grid road bus stops be killing people in Milton Keynes?

Health experts are struggling to figure out why so many Milton Keynes people are going to hospital with smoking-related conditions.

They are going to take a ‘deep dive’ into the numbers, including whether pollution from the grid roads is affecting the health of people who stand at city bus stops.

A grid road bus stop

A grid road bus stop

Despite the number of smokers falling to just over 13 per cent of the population, below the national average, hospital admissions for smoking related conditions like lung cancer remain vastly above similar parts of the country.

John Blakesley, the deputy chief executive of Milton Keynes University Hospital, told the Health and Wellbeing Board on Thursday that the issue needs “maximum attention” because the hospital is getting to a point where it is difficult to cope.

At every meeting the Board is told of health and wellbeing issues of concern in the city, in so-called ‘exception reports’. The members heard that out of every 100,000 Milton Keynes people, 1,860 attended hospital in 2017-18.

This is a worse record than similar places where the figure out of 100,000 people is 1,426, and the very best, where the number is 1,199.

Dr Nicola Smith, who chairs Milton Keynes Clinical Commissioning Group, said the number of hospital admissions may indicate that people with lung and breathing conditions (COPD) may need better diagnosis and ways to control their symptoms.

Hilda Kirkwood, of Healthwatch Milton Keynes, said air pollution may be an issue. “We are a city based on the car,” she said.

But Michael Bracey, the chief executive of MK Council, said the ‘low housing density’ of the city could cancel out the effect of pollution from the roads.

But Cllr Pete Marland, the council leader, said there may be something in the air pollution argument when bus users are standing at stops on the city’s grid road system.

When standing there, they could be exposed to more pollutants from cars, lorries, and buses.

“We’ve been trying to find the reasons for this for years, and years, and years,” he added.

And Muriel Scott, the council’s head of public health, said that the figures were “quite stark”.

“We need to decide what we need to do to turn it round,” she said.

The Board will be looking at more detailed analysis at a future meeting.