When thinking of greenhouse emissions, the health care sector is not one of the first things that come to mind. Yet the Australian health system produces 7% of the national greenhouse emissions, and the UK’s NHS contributing to 3% of England’s Greenhouse emissions. Measures have to be put in place to reduce the carbon footprint of the healthcare systems, so that they can reduce the human toll caused by pollution.
These emissions are caused by vehicle emissions as well as pharmaceuticals. A case study was done in the UK from 2007 to 2017, citing 1 in every 20 vehicles on the road was related to the NHS. This included healthcare workers getting to work, ambulances and the acquisition of pharmaceuticals. After the introduction of the Sustainable Development Unit (SDU) in the UK, they have managed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 11% in the 10 years, despite demand for health services rising by 18%, and was thought to have saved the NHS an estimated $3.5 Billion, and that figure is conservative.
By treating the pollution as a health problem, and not as an environmental problem, it is much clearer to see the impact it has locally in the community, than on a global scale. The Australian Medical Association has identified this and are calling for greater action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions as they consider it a significant threat to human health.
Dr David Pencheon, UK doctor and sustainable healthcare expert, is currently working with University of Sydney researchers to reduce the carbon footprint of the Australian healthcare system.
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Image: Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA), 19 Dec 2014.