Climate impacts of health services must be acknowledged, says NWMPHN leader

Doctors putting hands together
  15 January 2024  NWMPHN   

Climate change is a significant driver of adverse health outcomes, and human activities on all scales have the potential to contribute to them.

In many cases these results are not direct. Instead, actions in any sector can contribute to negative climate impacts – through energy consumption, perhaps, or generating air pollution somewhere along the supply chain – even if the local impact is beneficial.

This includes the health sector. Programs that improve wellbeing in one area represent an ambiguous success if they contribute to harmful outcomes in another.

The direct link between climate and health was explicitly acknowledged in December 2023 with the release by the Hon Ged Kearney MP, Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, of Australia’s first National Health and Climate Strategy.

Emphasising its importance, the strategy was launched at the first ever Health Day at COP28 in Dubai.

North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network (NWMPHN) strongly endorses the 4 core objectives of the strategy:

  • Health system resilience: build a climate-resilient health system and enhance its capacity to protect health and wellbeing from the impacts of climate change.
  • Health system decarbonisation: build a sustainable, high quality, net zero health system.
  • International collaboration: collaborate internationally to build sustainable, climate-resilient health systems and communities.
  • Health in all policies: support healthy, climate-resilient and sustainable communities through whole-of-government action which recognises the relationship between health and climate outcomes.

As a significant commissioner of health services in its catchment, and more broadly across Australia, NWMPHN is developing a process of analysing the climate impacts of its activities – and those of the health and community organisations it funds.

“We are keen to encourage all our partners to analyse the climate impacts of the programs they deliver and to work to mitigate these,” said NWMPHN chief executive officer, Christopher Carter.

“Many have already begun this process – as have we. A major move to lessen our climate impacts is planned for early 2024, when we will move our entire operation into a building with greater energy efficiency and lower energy costs.”

Mr Carter said he expected climate impact protocols to become fundamental aspects of health service commissioning and delivery over the next few years.

“A key consideration which all health organisations can implement immediately,” he added, “is the need to elevate the leadership, wisdom and knowledge of First Nations people in the response to the health impacts of climate change.”

NWMPHN recently published a tool to help mainstream organisations in its region implement the Victorian Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing Workforce Strategy 2022–26. Health service leaders can use the tool to help elevate First Nations leadership and ways of knowing, being and doing.