AS A respected professor of cardiovascular medicine and the woman behind a massive campaign to keep frontline health workers safe during Covid, Professor Jill Belch is already a woman of influence.

Winning Scotswoman of the Year, however, took things one step further, she says.

“It has been a delight being SWOTY, but more than that, I absolutely believe it has given me influence I did not have before,” she says.

Glasgow Times: Professor Jill Belch, who set up Masks for Scotland. Pic: Kirsty Anderson

“In my research into air pollution, for example, I have had access to people I just don’t think would have listened to me before SWOTY.

“It has made my name known, and that has helped enormously.”

Professor Belch was crowned Glasgow Times Scotswoman of the Year 2020, in recognition of her role as driving force behind the campaign to get PPE to NHS staff on the frontline fighting coronavirus.

Entries are now open for this year’s campaign – we want to hear your nominations for SWOTY 2021 and Young SWOTY 2021, which is open to girls and young women aged between 12 and 21.

Who has impressed, inspired or entertained you over the last 12 months?

You can nominate on our website here - - or by emailing or by writing to Kirsty Loughlin, Glasgow Times, 125 Fullarton Drive, Glasgow G32 8FG.

Remember to include your name and telephone number.

It is free to nominate and the closing date is February 25 at 12 noon.

A judging panel will draw up shortlists for both awards. The winner of Young SWOTY will be decided by public vote.

In her day job, as Professor in Vascular Medicine at Dundee University, Jill is responsible for groundbreaking and lifesaving research. Her Masks for Scotland campaign raised almost half a million pounds and delivered more than one million pieces of PPE around the country.

“And we counted a pair of gloves as one item,” she jokes, in reference to the UK Government’s decision to count 547 million individual gloves rather than 273.5 million pairs to arrive at its PPE equipment figure.

Glasgow Times: Professor Belch by the field which will become a housing estate and trunk road near her home.

Since winning our award last year, Professor Belch has continued to campaign for safe PPE, pushing for hospitals to switch to reusable masks in a bid to reduce single use plastic.

She has also turned her attention to the dangers of air pollution.

As a world class professor of vascular medicine, this is a topic in which she has had a long-term interest, but her recent research was prompted by plans for a major new road through her local area near Scone in Perthshire.

“It was to go past a school,” she explains. “We complained, about increased traffic and the health issues associated with pollution, but no-one listened. So I set about doing some research and went back 18 years to when hospital admissions had gone up in Perthshire because of illegal levels of pollution.

“And what I discovered was that if air quality was kept within global guidelines, there would be around 7500 fewer hospital admissions in Perthshire each year.”

It was a significant finding and has prompted further discussion surrounding air quality levels in Scotland, with Professor Belch hopeful that something will be done to tackle the issue.

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“The research was published by The Herald and The Ferret and resulted in an open letter to the First Minister signed by more than 60 leading health professionals – including consultants, GPs and medical academics - calling for more action to be taken on air pollution,” she adds.

“Levels of air pollution had fallen, because of lockdowns during the pandemic, but they are rising again. However, people are starting to realise the dangers, and are having none of it. Hopefully things will be done now and air pollution will become a thing of the past.”

Looking back at the moment she was announced as Glasgow Times Scotswoman of the Year, Professor Belch laughs: “I still don’t quite believe it – there were so many worthy women on the shortlist.

“It was a super boost for my family, and for the 60 plus drivers who helped deliver the PPE around the country.”

She adds: “Everyone worked so hard, packing boxes from 7am until one in the morning the next day, and it was difficult at times, being nervous about whether the stuff would arrive, whether we’d raise the money…so winning SWOTY was such a great boost for all of us, as it recognised the invisible work that had gone on behind the scenes.”