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GM Health Workers Have Their Say on Climate Action

August 2019 by Natalia Phipps

We recently helped to host an informal gathering, open to anyone in Greater Manchester (GM) working in the health and social care sectors who wanted to explore how to best take action to stop the climate breakdown. The health threats of a climate crisis are being increasingly discussed, especially following the extreme weather events last summer, current weather catastrophes across the world, and of course the young climate strikers and Extinction Rebellion. Issues such as these are so pertinent to the health and social care sectors in GM… But what are the solutions? And what steps do we need to take to deliver them?

Last week, GM health and social care professionals came together to share ideas, solutions and networks, encouraging action and collaboration in the sector. Amongst the attendees were GPs, social care workers, Salford CCG board members, ex-healthcare professionals as well as members of Extinction Rebellion and The Carbon Literacy Project. There is a long way to go in terms of de-carbonising the health and social care sectors, with many different solutions and pathways that could be taken including many more not discussed at this event… That being said, here is a summary of some of the shared discussions that were had during this particular gathering.

Motivations for climate action in the health sector

Taking action against climate breakdown is a win-win solution in terms of health and social care. Activities aimed at reducing carbon often lead to healthier lifestyles. Increasing active travel e.g. walking, cycling, and public transport, would encourage people to exercise more and use cars less, which in turn would lead to decreased health problems including high blood pressure, as well as addressing issues such as air pollution. These co-benefits could lead to massive cost-savings in the health sector.

What’s currently being done? 

Current noteworthy actions in the health sector…

  • The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospital’s NHS Foundation Trust declared a Climate Emergency– they are the first NHS trust in the UK to do so.
  • Putting climate change on the risk registry. The risk registry is a risk management process which enables a health trust to ensure actions are taken to identify areas of risk, and strategies to reduce or prevent them are enacted. Trusts such as Mid Yorkshire Hospitals have already put this into place.  
  • Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) pushing climate action e.g. Salford CCG, the world’s first Carbon Literate CCG (a Silver CLO).
  • Greater Manchester Moving– is the ‘comprehensive plan to reduce inactivity and increase participation in physical activity and sport that is aligned to the Greater Manchester Population Health Plan priority themes and wider reform agenda.’
  • GP prescribing energy efficiency for homes in the Outer Hebrides – retrofitting can make huge energy and carbon savings as well as economic savings in the NHS from less cold-related illnesses. 

What do we want to see? 

Climate actions…

  • Currently, there is a planned budget increase of 40% for upgrading and maintaining the UK’s big national and local roads – £28.8bn five-year fund (2018). We need to be investing more of that money on active travel and public transport services. Without the facilities to encourage behaviour change, people are not going to change their behaviour! 
  • Why can’t GPs prescribe cycling? If safe, segregated cycle lanes were implemented with sufficient provisions for storing bikes, there would be a much higher uptake of cycling. 
  • Networks e.g. Royal Colleges to declare climate emergencies. Networks such as these can be a voice to the public and show the severity of the climate breakdown. The Royal College of Nursing has done so.
  • Legitimising direct action – the public has high levels of trust in doctors and other healthcare professionals, vocalising a sense of urgency to the public on this crisis is vital. 
  • The development of a league table of GM hospitals depending on relative carbon footprints and meeting yearly carbon budgets – similar to People & Planet’s University League

What do we need to do to make this happen?

We need more open conversations between trusts, hospitals, GPs, and different social & healthcare professionals to encourage action and planning for best practice on how to reach zero carbon targets within the sector. In order to make the kind of transformative changes needed within the health sphere, we need a blueprint of what a zero carbon health sector looks like. What does a zero carbon hospital look like, etc.?

Commitments

Various attendees from the event pledged to push this agenda forward in different ways. At The Project, we offered to research what has already been declared by the NHS and what current commitments exist. Others pledged to find out what networks we were currently in touch with (e.g. BMA) to lobby them on the climate crisis, encouraging them to act and declare climate emergencies. An additional thought was to try and find some data on heatwaves and how they impact the health sector e.g. a summer bed crisis. It’s important to visualise how heat, as well as other extremes in weather, will impact the health and social sectors as the planet continues to warm, and the strain this will put these services under. 

The Project, as well as Extinction Rebellion, wish to continue to work with the healthcare sector to inform and educate health workers on how to respond to the climate emergency and take action. Whether that be in the form of Carbon Literacy training or through talks such as XR’s ‘Heading for Extinction’. And of course, anyone interested in taking action on climate change can join Extinction Rebellion.

Useful resources

  • Green impact for health – This toolkit is designed by GPs for GPs, supported by sustainability professionals to help General Practices improve their sustainability and environmental impact, reducing waste, reducing practice costs and addressing the risks of climate change. 
  • NHS Sustainable Development Unit has lots of great resources.
  • The UK Health and Climate Alliance also do excellent work bringing climate action to the UK healthcare sector.

 

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