Doctors want a climate safe health system, survey shows

21 December 2022 

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) along with 10 other medical colleges from across Australia have united in a campaign to advocate for the healthcare system to become more environmentally sustainable and resilient to the impacts of climate change.

It comes as a new survey of healthcare workers by the RACP found that 83% of respondents supported the healthcare system becoming more climate-friendly and climate-ready and 65% described the impacts of climate change on the health workforce as negative or very negative.

An economic analysis produced for the RACP last year[1] found the costs associated with bushfires alone between 2021 and 2030 will be:

  • up to 1480 lives lost
  • healthcare costs of $69 million
  • a $10 billion reduction in gross domestic product.

It also showed a $1 billion investment to reduce the impact of bushfires on health by 10% would be recouped in a decade.

The RACP President Dr Jacqueline Small has been appointed to the Chief Medical Officer’s Advisory Group for the National Climate, Health and Wellbeing Strategy. Dr Small said: “The climate crisis is a health crisis. Physicians, paediatricians, and other healthcare professionals are all witnessing the toll that climate disasters such as droughts, fires, and floods take on the physical and mental health their patients.

“These climate events are happening right now – and our healthcare systems are simply not prepared to be managing this.

“We welcome the Australian Government’s commitment to a National Climate, Health and Wellbeing strategy. It was very positive to see the inclusion of a National Health Sustainability Unit to develop the strategy in the October Federal Budget. This work is more important than ever, as our survey and economic analysis clearly show, and we’re very glad to be contributing the expertise of our members”  

The RACP has launched the Healthy Climate Future campaign as a call to action for a climate-ready and climate-friendly health system, which has been endorsed by 10 other Colleges.

As part of the initiative, members from across medical colleges were invited to respond to a survey.  The survey conducted in September 2022 had 423 respondents who were health professionals. 89% were members of the RACP.

The survey found that of respondents to the following questions:

  • “How would you describe the impacts of climate change on the health workforce?” 65% said the impacts were negative or very negative.
  • Of respondents to the question, “Do you support the health system becoming more climate friendly (environmentally sustainable) and climate ready (resilient to the impacts of climate change)?”83.1% said yes.
  • Of respondents to the question, “How soon do you think health system needs respond to climate risks?” 73.16 % said immediately or very soon.

The Colleges endorsing the campaign are:

  • Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP)
  • Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS)
  • Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP)
  • Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA)
  • Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG)
  • Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM)
  • College of Intensive Care Medicine (CICM)
  • Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO)
  • Australasian College of Sports and Exercise Physicians (ACSEP)
  • The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists (RANZCR)
  • The Australasian College of Dermatologists (ACD)

“Together, the Colleges represent more than 100,000 doctors, and the colleges’ endorsement of this campaign speaks to how deeply climate change impacts health and the urgency of this issue,” Dr Small said.

Further evidence can be found in the 2021 report: Climate Change and Australia’s Healthcare Systems: A Review of Literature, Policy and Practice.



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