Climate change threatens NHS care provision, warns health alliance

Nurses have a vital role in raising awareness of its effects

Nurses are being urged to speak out about the impact extreme weather has on their job. 

The newly formed UK Health Alliance on Climate Change today (March 30) warned that the NHS is unequipped to deal with the rising threat of weather phenomena such as flooding and heatwaves.

The alliance, whose members include the RCN and other royal colleges, wrote to health secretary Jeremy Hunt, warning him that only a fifth of clinical commissioning groups and a third of NHS providers have adequate plans in place to adapt to climate change.

The letter urges Mr Hunt to lobby his cabinet colleagues to help tackle the issue.

RCN head of policy Howard Catton said nurses must speak out about how climate change affects care provision, and hailed the ‘power of the voice’ belonging to the 670,000 nurses and midwives working in the UK.   

He explained how at RCN congress last year 98% of nurses voted for the college to highlight their concerns about NHS preparedness for climate change.

During last December’s Storm Eva in the UK, stories emerged of nurses leaving their homes to flood while they attended to vulnerable patients, as well as walking long distances to reach people when roads and bridges were destroyed.

'It is only by nurses speaking out about the problems they are facing that people in authority will realise the impact climate change is having on health and health provision,’ said Mr Catton. 

The alliance published figures showing that about 2,000 hospitals, care homes and GP surgeries are operating in flood risk zones.

During the 2003 European heatwave, almost 15,000 people died in France. Infrastructure such as electricity grids, transport networks and hospitals became overwhelmed, and many of the deaths were among isolated older people. 

Alliance member the Faculty of Public Health was among the letter's signatories. Faculty president John Ashton said: ‘Let’s not wait for disaster on this scale to strike the UK before we are properly prepared.’

For more information see the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change website

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