In an open letter to Jeremy Hunt, The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change warns that the NHS is unprepared for the impact of climate change, and that the government needs to act now rather than follow the usual practice of waiting until disaster strikes.
The Alliance says that the NHS is at risk from two types of climate-related crises. First, much of the NHS estate has been built on floodplains, and is vulnerable to the increasing risk of flooding:
“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.”
Second, the changing climate is likely to create the conditions for the spread of diseases normally limited to tropical zones, as well as increasing conditions related to heat and air pollution:
“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.”
Whether an under-funded health and social care system will be able to cope with new crises given that it is already struggling to cope with its normal day to day workload is a moot point. Moreover, it is doubtful that the system will cope if Hunt succeeds in lowering the morale of junior doctors to the point that they seek employment elsewhere. It is more likely that the worst fears set out in the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change’s letter will come to pass; and we will indeed “wait for disaster… to strike the UK before we are properly prepared.”