Artist impression doctors above climate change globe

Doctors can lead by example in fight against climate change

A new report by the British Medical Association (BMA) urges doctors and the NHS to seize an opportunity and help lead forward the fight against climate change.

Their new report, Climate change and sustainability: The health service and net zero, outlines the health service’s responsibility, both to the environment and its patients, to reduce its own carbon footprint and strive toward ambitious national net zero emissions targets.

As one of the largest employers in the UK and contributing up to 5% of the country’s total carbon emissions, there is the potential for significant, tangible change should the NHS manage to further increase its sustainability efforts.

Depreciating global climate health has a knock-on impact on the health of people around the world, with estimates predicting that, by continuing at current rates without intervention, there could be an additional 250,000 deaths a year globally between 2030 and 2050.

Rising sea levels and global temperatures due to climate change could see increase prevalence of flooding, famine, population displacement and the spread of infectious diseases.

In response, the BMA said: “Climate change will be one of the defining public health challenges of the 21st century. The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change warns that global warming rising above 1.5 degree Celsius could have disastrous consequences for millions of people’s jobs, ways of life and health.

“We can already see the health impacts of climate change and pollutants on a local level, with around 40,000 deaths directly attributed to air pollution in the UK alone.

“Given the grave threat that climate change poses to public health, the health service has a responsibility to reduce its emissions and help to safeguard the health of future generations.”

The report also outlines nine recommendations aimed at the Government, NHS trusts and health boards which are designed to build upon existing sustainability measures – which have already seen the NHS reduce its carbon footprint by nearly 20% since 2007.

These recommendations include the publication of regular reports by trusts and health boards on their progress towards reducing their carbon footprints, the establishment of clear targets for the reduction of single-use plastics and further adoption of reusable medical equipment and the use of capital funding towards improving the sustainability of NHS estates and fleet options.

It added: “Tackling climate change and reducing health service emissions will help to safeguard the health and well-being of the UK, both now and in generations to come.

“Achieving net zero carbon emissions will require fundamental societal change and unprecedented action from governments, businesses and the public. The health service has an important role to play in reducing its emissions, showing leadership, and advocating for change.

“The sooner we as a society achieve net zero the better it is for health.”

NHE March/April 2024

NHE March/April 2024

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- Steve Gulati, University of Birmingham 

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