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RCPI survey highlights doctors’ concerns about climate change

Doctors working in the Irish health system are deeply concerned about the effect of climate change and pollution on the health of our population and want to play an active role in addressing these challenges, according to a new survey.

A survey of doctors who are members of the RCPI of Ireland found that 97 per cent of respondents are concerned about climate change and its impact on health. Almost all of them highlight the high volumes of medical waste, single use plastics and food waste within the hospital system as issues they want to see tackled, with 95 per cent saying they would like to take a leadership role in creating a sustainable healthcare system.

Just three per cent said that they thought the health service was doing enough to deliver healthcare in an environmentally conscious way.

“Perhaps most encouraging was the willingness to find solutions, both practical and creative,” according to Consultant in Public Health Medicine Dr Ina Kelly.

“Reducing single use plastics, recycling equipment, going paperless, providing more education on the separation of disposables and cutting food waste, were all touched on. As well as these there were also calls for better facilities to encourage a green and healthy commute for staff and patients, upgrading of healthcare settings and providing more community-based clinics as well as the adoption of online virtual clinics to reduce the carbon footprint of outpatients attending appointments.

“The problem here, however, is that while we have doctors willing to practically engage many appeared unsure how to make this happen. This is a highly educated and knowledgeable workforce that needs to be offered an opportunity to play their part to identify issues and contribute to solutions in this climate crisis.

“Solving this requires clear overarching policy, implemented systematically, and not addressing issues in isolation. We need to look at what the bigger picture is in terms of sustainability and healthcare. “

Dr Kelly said the issue needs to be a priority for senior management.

“Investment is essential, we need to start investing in this green sustainable piece to make it actionable,” she said.

“This is not just about preventing climate change, it’s also about being able to afford the health service we need for people. Part of affording it is not having people sick where they don’t need to be. Part of it is making sure you don’t buy equipment that doesn’t need to be bought. It is making sure that you don’t waste food because that costs money as well as it having a carbon footprint. This is actually a cost issue, with potentially infinite demand for healthcare but finite resources. Looked at simply, by being more sustainable, money is potentially available for use on other things, for example to open up a bed or employ another staff member.

“Solving this issue, needs integrated, linked up, joined up thinking and planning. You need to have a system that is working together and I don’t think we have a joined-up system at the moment.”

Recently, the Government published the first Climate Change Adaptation Plan for the health sector.

To book tickets to RCPI’s Green Health Symposium on 6 November visit www.rcpi.ie/greenhealth. This event is open to all healthcare professionals.

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