Reducing New Zealand’s carbon footprint and taking a lead on environmental sustainability, will improve people’s health, lead to major health cost savings and has potential to improve health equity, says Dr Cambell Bennett, a specialist anaesthetist at Lakes DHB and the Chair of the DHB’s sustainability committee.
Dr Bennett, who is also a member of the Sustainable Health Sector National Network NZ, is speaking at the New Zealand Anaesthesia Annual Scientific Meeting (8-11 November), and says that New Zealand’s health sector is “lagging behind the rest of the world” in responding to climate change.
“There’s been a lack of national leadership in developing and coordinating plans, measurement, reporting and monitoring for GHG emissions and sustainability.”
He says there is an irrefutable link between climate change events such as heat waves and floods, and negative impacts on human health including heat effects on those with long-term conditions and frailty, food- and water-borne illnesses and increased mental health problems.
The newly released Royal Society report on climate change and health reinforces that we have “a global public health emergency,” which harms the vulnerable members of our society most, including children, the elderly, people with chronic disease and low-income groups. “If we don’t address climate change then health inequities will only worsen.”
He says that the health sector itself has a significant impact on the environment through its purchasing and operations, and is a large emitter of the greenhouse gases that drive climate change. “The health sector’s mandate is to prevent and cure disease, yet the paradox is that the delivery of healthcare services, most notably in hospitals, often contributes to the problem. It has been estimated that healthcare produces 3-8% of a developed country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.”
These emissions are generated by hospital heating, ventilation and cooling, other building energy uses such as 24-hour devices, lighting, computers, waste, health-related travel, and through the whole procurement pathway of products used in hospitals such as pharmaceuticals and devices.
Dr Bennett says the health sector can lower its carbon footprint by actioning basic changes like energy efficiency and sourcing hospital food locally to reduce transport and food miles “which also supports jobs and the local economy, major determinants of health for a community.”
“Research shows that almost everything you do to reduce carbon in the health sector reduces costs.”
In the US, a Commonwealth Fund review estimated savings of $5 billion over five years and $15 billion over 10 years. In NZ, Waikato DHB’s energy efficiency projects since July 2015 save $300,000 a year.
He says NZ health professionals are strongly supportive of leading the way to reduce carbon emissions, as they recognise the benefits it would have to improve health and reduce inequities. “Financial savings could be redirected into areas such as providing better quality housing for low income groups which would in turn reduce hospitalisations from childhood respiratory illnesses.”
“Without question some DHBs are doing great work around sustainability and carbon reduction, but it needs to be part of the DHB monitoring and reporting framework to ensure all DHBs are on board. We need the Government, and health sector leaders, including the Health Ministry and DHBs to be committed to leading and driving change in this area.”
He says there are a groundswell of global health initiatives our health sector should action, such as emissions reduction targets and annual reporting, and employing sustainability officers at each DHB.
“The health of our environment and the health of New Zealanders goes hand in hand. We need to urgently address environmental challenges with a whole-of-society approach, including government, the health sector and other sectors such as agriculture and transport. By doing this together and seeing it as an opportunity for the entire community we can achieve win-wins for both our environment and our health for current and future generations.”
The New Zealand 'Sustainable Health Sector National Network' is a group of health professionals and others working together to improve environmental sustainability in the health sector and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The group works alongside OraTaiao: The NZ Climate and Health Council), and both organisations are running a forum on Sustainable Healthcare in New Zealand,
on 24 November at the University of Otago Wellington Mein St, Newtown, Wellington. This Forum is supported by the University of Otago and the Deep South National Science Challenge Engagement Fund.
The NZ Anaesthesia Annual Scientific Meeting (ASM) is hosted jointly by the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) and the New Zealand Society of Anaesthetists (NZSA).
One of Australasia's largest specialist medical colleges, ANZCA is responsible for the training, examination and specialist accreditation of anaesthetists and pain medicine specialists, and for the standards of clinical practice, in Australia and New Zealand.
The New Zealand Society of Anaesthetists (NZSA) represents and champions the professional interests of anaesthetists and the optimal care of their patients through advocacy, facilitating and promoting education and research, and supporting anaesthesia networks throughout the country.