The Climate Crisis is a Health Crisis!

“Climate change is the single biggest health threat facing humanity” – United Nations

The science could not be more united, climate change is a health crisis and healthcare professionals will be on the front line. That’s why Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK) are proud to be supporting Zero Hour and the Climate and Nature Bill.

DAUK is an independent advocacy organisation, led by volunteer doctors and medical students campaigning for a safe working environment for healthcare professionals, in order to best keep patients safe. We campaign for a “Learn not Blame” culture in the NHS, fighting against victimising an individual for the faults of the system. We push to support international medical graduates, many of whom know too well the harsh reality of climate change in their home countries, medical students who are likely to face the consequences of the climate crisis throughout their careers, and the huge number of doctors suffering from burnout because of a broken system.

PicUp is “an environmental community project creating art from documented litter and empowering our communities to discover that each small action contributes to the bigger picture”. Credit: PicUpGlobal

We are all too familiar with the threats climate change poses to human health. During the heatwave in the UK, staff and patients endured searing heat and dehydration in hospitals and GP surgeries that were not designed with extreme temperatures in mind. We are faced with the consequences of air pollution and the 40,000 premature deaths associated with it each year, let alone the floods, the wildfires, the sewage discharge or millions of displaced people seeking refuge after their homeland becomes inhospitable.

Even the COVID crisis itself has been attributed to climate change, with many healthcare professionals still suffering from the physical effects of the virus and the psychological trauma of the sheer scale of critically ill patients. Sadly the risk of future pandemics is further increased by the changing climate.

Healthcare itself is a culprit in contributing to global warming and needs to look inwardly at how it can become environmentally sustainable. We have all seen images of facemasks in the oceans, but less well known are the contributions of excess medication disposal, the greenhouse effects of many anaesthetic gases, the energy wastage of old uninsulated hospitals that leave their heating on all year round. In fact, if global healthcare was a country, it would be the 5th largest emitter of CO2 equivalent emissions in the world.

It has never been clearer how closely intertwined healthcare and climate change are. It is our duty as healthcare professionals to fight for a sustainable future, and we are honoured to be supporting the Climate and Nature Bill.

Dr Matthew Lee is a Junior Doctor and Sustainability Lead at Doctors’ Association UK.

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