Strengthen health systems to cope with climate change challenges

University of Sydney expert Professor Anthony Capon says climate change is already harming the health of Australians and there is an urgent need for stronger climate change action by all tiers of government.

Australia’s health systems must be strengthened to cope with the coming challenges of climate change, say authors of a Perspective published in the Medical Journal of Australia today.

Professor Anthony Capon , who leads the  University of Sydney’s Planetary Health Platform , said: "Our research shows that climate change is already harming the health of Australians. 

"There is an urgent need for stronger climate change action by all tiers of government, especially our national government."

Professor Capon and colleagues write: "After another Australian summer of record-breaking temperatures, bushfires, floods and widespread drought, it is clear that our health systems should be strengthened to cope with the challenges of climate change.

"We must also reduce the carbon footprint of health care and continue to advocate that Australia play its part in dealing with the fundamental causes of climate change.

"A system that integrates all aspects of health care is essential for facing future challenges.

"Australia is geophysically stable, protecting us to some extent from catastrophic events such as earthquakes and tsunamis, but we are vulnerable to climate-related disasters and emergencies including heatwaves, bushfires, droughts, cyclones and floods - the frequency, intensity and duration of which are being amplified by climate change.

"A whole-of-system approach and improvements to the timeliness of disease surveillance were needed.

"Current disease notification systems are slow, and monitoring of the response capacity of the health system relies on individuals recognising and reporting emerging problems.

"Enhanced real time surveillance of ambulance, emergency department, and hospital capacities and of patterns of demand should enable more timely recognition of new problems and increase the response capability of the health system.

"We also need to determine the standards of care relevant to particular situations.

"A comprehensive whole-of-system approach will help Australia build a resilient health system that can adapt to the challenges of climate change. The task will not be easy, and there will inevitably be difficult discussions for all health professionals.

 "Whole-of-system approaches are feasible if they are built upon routine processes and they respectfully engage all elements of the health system, both institutional and community-based," Professor Capon and colleagues concluded.

Doctors should be telling patients that climate change is an immediate health risk, not just an environmental problem, say University of Sydney scholars and a sustainable healthcare expert visiting from the UK, Dr David Pencheon.

The Australian government’s policy inaction on climate change is threatening lives, says a report in today’s Medical Journal of Australia.

Climate change is already harming health in Australia and around the world by amplifying the frequency, intensity and duration of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, bushfires, droughts and tropical storms.