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30.03.16

NHS must do more to prepare for health threat of climate change

Climate change risks causing a health crisis for the UK population in the coming decades unless the NHS does more to prepare for it, a new alliance have warned.

The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change say that the risks of climate change to the UK population include flooding, heatwaves such as the one which killed 15,000 people in France in 2003, and increased mosquito populations and air pollution.

The most recent analysis suggests that only a third of NHS providers and 18% of CCGs have adequate plans to adapt to climate change.

John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, said: “Ensuring that our NHS doesn’t fail as a result of the threats we face is vital. The Zika Virus epidemic in South America, and the impact of heatwaves in Europe including in the UK, clearly demonstrate the devastating effects that result when the public and the health systems they rely on are unprepared for and overwhelmed by new challenges. France now has an action plan in place which reduced the 2010 heatwave deathtoll.  Let’s not wait for disaster on this scale to strike the UK before we are properly prepared.”

The Alliance warn that increased natural disasters linked to climate change, such as the flooding that hit parts of England last winter, will place emergency services at risk, with up to 14% of emergency service stations and 8% of healthcare buildings located in flood risk zones.

They also say that tackling climate change can help address other health problems in the UK at the same time – for example, encouraging people to walk and cycle instead of driving will reduce both carbon dioxide emissions and obesity.

They also call on the Department of Health to support the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s target of phasing out unabated coal-fired power by 2025, which will also help reduce lung disease.

In a letter written to health secretary Jeremy Hunt, the new Health Alliance say: “In the same way that doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals have worked to combat the burden of disease including tobacco and obesity, the Alliance exists to ensure a robust policy response to one of the gravest threats to the health of the nation, and in particular the most vulnerable; our children, the elderly and the infirm… More work is urgently needed to prepare the personnel, the systems and the facilities of the NHS, as well as other institutions involved in health care, for the implications of climate change.”

They ask for a meeting with senior officials to discuss how to improve health while mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nurses, said: “As with other public health threats, doctors and nurses are coming together to call for stronger, smarter measures to tackle climate change.

“By providing their patients with small but important changes in their lives that benefit their health, healthcare professionals can also play a significant role in reducing the financial pressures on the NHS and the wider impacts of climate change.”

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