Healthcare system unprepared for extreme weather events

11 March 2022

Physicians call for comprehensive national climate health plan from Government

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians says our healthcare system is dangerously unprepared for extreme weather events and is calling on the Federal Government to create a dedicated strategy to deal with the impacts of climate change on our healthcare system.

RACP President Professor John Wilson said, “The scale of devastation in flood affected communities in Queensland and New South Wales is incredibly distressing. We, as doctors, want to express our support and care for people in these communities.

“Let’s be clear – extreme weather events including larger, more frequent floods, are a predicted impact of climate change. We need a plan that reduces the impacts of climate change, with detailed, locally led risk and vulnerability assessments so that communities do not continue to suffer the scale of impacts that we have seen.

“Right now there are communities in New South Wales and Queensland who are struggling to get medical support as their towns grapple with the impacts of extreme flooding.

“We need to consider more than just the immediate health impacts of a flooding event like this.

“This will take months, if not years, of recovery for the community. People will need increased access to mental health support and other types of ongoing care in their local community.

“While local doctors, physicians, paediatricians and other health professionals are doing their best to care for patients – we need a proper health plan in place to deal with these events in the future.

“Action from the international community on climate change and the recent IPCC report drive home the need for us to take stronger action here in Australia.

“We are calling for a National Climate and Health plan from the Federal Government that prepares our healthcare system for the inevitable challenges ahead.

The Federal Government’s National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy and $10m over 5 years to fund the HEAL Network to research climate change and health are very welcome policy initiatives. However, they are not nearly enough to tackle the biggest emerging threat to public health in Australia. To do that, a comprehensive National Climate Change and Health Strategy is required that brings together all the key elements: research, risk and vulnerability analysis and planning, adaptation action, and capacity and capability building. This needs to go hand in hand with strong action to reduce emissions from the health care sector and the broader economy.

“While we deal with the immediate flooding crisis– we also can’t ignore the fact that climate science says extreme weather events are going to become more regular. We must be prepared.

“The impact of these floods is absolutely devastating and we cannot stress enough the need for governments  to support these communities to get back on their feet in what will be a long road ahead.

We call on the Federal Government to show leadership through these actions:

1.     Create and fund a National Climate Change and Health Strategy that will enable our health system to build climate resilience.

2.     Create and fund a National Climate Change and Health Sustainability Unit to oversee the implementation of the Strategy

3.     Invest in a National Climate Change and Health Resilience Research Fund to identify resilience strategies suited to our health system.

Endorsed by 10 Medical Colleges, read the RACP’s Climate Change And Australia’s Healthcare Systems report.

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