Launch of UK Health Alliance on Climate Change

An alliance of some of the UK's most prominent health and medical associations has just been launched, to elevate the health professional's response to climate change.

The Presidents of each of the foundation members have written to the UK Secretary of State for Health with a number of initial policy positions and a request for a meeting, and this has been received positively.

See their website, and more details below.

What is the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change?
The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change brings together Britain’s major health institutions. Our aim is to encourage stronger, smarter approaches to tackling climate change that protect and promote public health, whilst also reducing the burden on health services.

The Alliance’s founding members are: Royal College of General Practitioners, Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Anaesthetists, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Faculty of Public Health, Royal Society of Medicine, the Climate and Health Council, The Lancet, British Medical Association and the British Medical Journal.

What are its aims?
The Alliance aims to:

Raise awareness of the risks to health that climate change poses and the benefits (such as reduced air pollution and healthier diet) that tackling it can bring;

Support and enable doctors, nurses and allied health professionals to act;

Advocate at a national and international level for a strong policy response to protect and promote public health in tackling climate change.

Its core activities are:
Lobbying the UK Governments to ensure that national energy, health, transport, agriculture and local community policy unlocks health benefits.

Developing communications tools and opportunities for individual UK health professionals to better inform themselves and advocate on behalf of their patients.

Working with local and national partners to help strengthen the NHS’s resilience to, and impact on climate change, and in doing so reduce the financial burden on health services.

How does climate change impact on UK public health?
Here are some examples of how climate change impacts health in the UK.

Heatwaves - 2,000 excess deaths were recorded in England and Wales during the August 2003 heatwave and it is very likely man-made pollution more than doubled the risk of that kind of heatwave.

Flooding - In 2015 during Storm Desmond, the NHS in Lancashire declared a major incident after flooding caused power cuts and stopped doctors and nurses reaching hospitals. After the 2007 summer floods, mental health symptoms such as anxiety and distress were two to five times higher among those who had been affected by flood water in the home.

Spread of diseases - climate change will affect the risk of diseases spread by mosquitoes and other insects in the UK as warmer temperatures will make conditions more favourable for these to breed. Examples of diseases are West Nile virus and Dengue fever.

Asthma and hay fever are set to increase - Levels of ground-level ozone are set to increase, which can make it harder to breathe for people with conditions like asthma. South-East England is likely to be particularly badly affected. Pollen levels could increase by up to 12 times, affecting hay fever sufferers.

How can tackling climate change benefit public health?
Smart approaches to tackling climate change can bring health ‘co-benefits’.
The Alliance will specifically focus on:

Air pollution - 29,000 excess deaths are caused by poor air quality each year with power station air pollution estimated to cause 3,800 respiratory-related deaths per year. The Alliance will initially call on the Secretary of State for Health to support the Government’s commitment to phase-out unabated coal power plants by 2025 at the latest.

‘Active transport’ - Active travel such as walking and cycling, coupled with increased fuel efficiency in the UK’s urban areas, could lead to net savings in NHS and social security costs exceeding £15 billion by 2030.

Healthy diet – New research from Public Health England (PHE) and Carbon Trust has found the current UK diet has 45% higher carbon emissions than a diet based on the PHE Eatwell Guide.

Energy efficiency in the home - Improved household energy efficiency could lead to the avoidance of around 5400 premature deaths per year in the UK.

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