A major new alliance of health bodies including royal colleges, medical faculties and publications called on the Government to work with all departmental sectors to improve health outcomes and reduce the financial burden on the NHS.

The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change claims that as weather events like flooding and heatwaves become more commonplace, the risks to people’s health and public infrastructure will intensify.

In a letter to the health secretary Jeremy Hunt, the alliance wrote: “More work is urgently needed to prepare the personnel, the systems and the facilities of the NHS, as well as other institutions involved in health care, for the implications of climate change.”

Public health

Underlining that only 18% of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), and one third of NHS providers have adequate plans in place to adapt to climate change, the group urged ministers not to ‘wait for disaster’ before they act.

The group declared that key issues such as air quality, cleaner transport and household energy efficiency must be addressed if the Government is to form a strong policy response to protect and promote public health.

The Faculty of Public Health’s president John Ashton stated it was ‘vital’ the Government ensures that the NHS doesn’t fail as a direct result of the threats caused by climate change.

“The Zika Virus epidemic in South America, and the impact of heatwaves in Europe including in the UK, clearly demonstrate the devastating effects that result when the public and the health systems they rely on are unprepared for and overwhelmed by new challenges,” Ashton said.

“France now has an action plan in place which reduced the 2010 heatwave death toll. Let’s not wait for disaster on this scale to strike the UK before we are properly prepared.”

Severe weather

The alliance highlighted the severe floods last winter that disabled major infrastructure across the country. According to the group, up to 8% of health care buildings in England are currently operating in flood risk zones, with as many as 2,000 hospitals, care homes and GP surgeries are at risk of river and coastal flooding.             

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine’s president Dr Clifford Mann said: “We see first-hand what happens in A&E departments when severe weather hits. Elderly people, pregnant women and children can be especially vulnerable and are often the first to get into difficulty.

“Flooding in particular makes homes uninhabitable and displaces large numbers of people. Those who rely on home-care services to support them lose their independence. Even temporary displacement can result in long term physical and psychological damage.”

Medical isotopes

The news comes in the same week that Britain agreed a landmark deal that will see the multilateral transfer of nuclear components in exchange for a continued supply of rare materials that will be used to diagnose and treat cancer in the UK.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced an agreement yesterday (31 March) with the US and European Union, which will see the UK handover around 700 kilograms of excess Highly Enriched Uranium (HUE) in exchange for different HUEs that can be converted into medical isotopes.

The isotopes, which will be retained at the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) in France, could then be used in radiotherapy to treat conditions such as thyroid cancer by weakening or destroying cancerous cells.  

Commenting on the agreement, the Prime Minister said: “This is a landmark deal to turn nuclear material we no longer need into a cancer-fighting treatment that could potentially save many lives. It’s a win-win, innovative solution that shows what working together with our international partners can achieve.”

George Ogleby

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