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Climate change biggest threat to health system, medical colleges say

RANZCO has formed a united front with other Australasian medical colleges calling for the Federal Government to devise an urgent plan to protect Australians and the healthcare system from the impacts of climate change.

The call comes as the Royal Australasian College of Physicians released a report it commissioned, prepared by the Monash Sustainable Development Institute. Endorsed by RANZCO and nine other medical colleges, it paints a dire picture of the future of the Australian healthcare system under the unmitigated impacts of climate change.

Prof Nitin Verma.

It includes a model of the cost of bushfires of varying magnitudes modelled between 2021 and 2030 inclusive. The analysis predicted the loss of 1,480 lives, equating to 4,024 years of life; healthcare costs of $69 million; and a $10 billion impact on gross domestic product.

The report recommends:

  • Establishing a dedicated climate change health resilience fund to support research and innovation
  • Building capacity in the healthcare sector, health workforce and the wider health system
  • Developing climate risk and capacity assessments and locally-led disaster planning for healthcare systems
  • Committing to and develop a plan for delivering net zero healthcare by 2040
  • Implementing and fund a national strategy on climate change and health
  • Embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge and leadership in all climate change policy and action
  • Investing in prevention and early intervention as a key element of climate change and health strategy.

RANZCO president Clinical Professor Nitin Verma said the report laid bare the vulnerability of Australia’s systems and communities to the changing climate.

“Our college joins with the rest of our profession to call for leadership from the Federal Government on decarbonising our society and building resilience to drought, fire, floods and heat stress,” he said.

“RANZCO has made our own commitment to addressing climate change within our part of the health sector, but only advocacy for a coordinated national and global response can effect meaningful changes.”

Emeritus Professor David Fletcher, chair of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) Environmental Sustainability in Surgical Practice Working Party, said the healthcare community must take a leadership role in advocating for emissions reductions, and to critically examine its own activities with respect to their effects on human and environmental health.

“Surgeons are committed to reducing the footprint of our practice given it currently accounts for the majority of health’s emissions. We commend this report as laying the groundwork for how we can collectively work together to mitigate the dire risks on human health posed by climate change,” he said.

The full report can be accessed here.

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