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Climate change (or will it rain again this weekend?)

Over the last couple of weeks I have been teaching bioethics with medical students and in one of the lectures on informatics and medical practice I found myself introducing climate change (don't ask).

When I first knew I was going to do this I wondered how I was going to make a seamless link within the lecture. I have to say I am not sure I was that successful and my colleague who was sitting in the lecture room with me felt a palpable gasp from the students as the slide went up! Anyway, I think I made a reasonably good case for it being an important issue in medical practice.

I had a coffee with colleagues on Monday after our session on bioethics and asked them for suggestions for this week's efforts. They all chorused "CLIMATE CHANGE" so here we are.

There has been no escaping the weather this weekend - not just raining but chucking it down (I was challenged to include a song title at this point but I have decided that I can't!). One of the students I know has had her home and its contents ruined by the floods this weekend and it underlined to me how close to each one of us the impact of climate change might be. In relation to ethics we all need to consider collective responsibility (governments and local councils) and our own individual actions.
When I go and stay in Spain with my in-laws it always bothers me that they don't recycle anything over there and when they stay with us I have to issue instructions about what goes into the rubbish and what gets recycled - and often and have to retrieve things from the wrong receptacle!

I'm not sure until last week if I had ever really considered the climate change implications of healthcare delivery but as we consider the future, the price of fuel and our carbon footprint then maybe we need smarter ways of working. Sitting in queues of traffic in the morning isn't the best way of starting the day when you don't have to; waiting an hour for the traffic to die back and in the meantime get a lecture prepared is smart. We all need to consider different ways of working that might impact on the environment around us.

So is climate change an issue for healthcare and those working within it? Well, having done a quick piece of research on the topic I found the answer seems to be an overwhelming "yes". There are a number of resources available to healthcare providers and commissioners to enable them to explore how they can reduce their carbon footprint and their environmental impact.

Alison While back in 2006 was urging community nurses to take notice of the debates, as the social, economic and political consequences of climate change will impact on health and wellbeing. Disease profiles will change and food supplies will be less predictable and the most vulnerable groups in society will be the hardest hit.(1)

The BMA has produced a document that provides a comprehensive and very accessible overview of the issues for healthcare providers and explores what we can all do to mitigate and adapt to climate change.(2)
It is a topic that I have become surprisingly animated by and I have certainly started considering how many trips I make to the supermarket, how I can buy locally produced food, not waste so much and I go round switching lights off when classrooms are empty!

Have you made any changes recently in response to climate change? Let us know and we can share ideas and best practice.


  1. While A. Climate change should matter to nurses (editorial). Br J Comm Nurs 2006;11: 454.
  2. BMA. Health professionals taking action on climate change. 2008. Available from

DH/Health Protection Agency. Health effects of climate change in the UK 2008 : an update of the Department of Health Report 2001/2002
NHS Confederation (2007) Taking the Temperature. Towards an NHS response to global warming. London: NHS Confederation; 2008.