The British Medical Journal (BMJ) are urging health professionals to take action against the climate crisis in their latest special issue.

They warn that climate change is affecting our health and time is running out to reverse the damage done by humanity on our planet.

They say that system changes are necessary as well as changes at an individual level, and are therefore calling on health professionals to make personal lifestyle changes as well as hold organisations and governments to account.

The Journal says that “doctors and other health professionals are in a unique and privileged position to influence change,” and can make simple, climate-friendly choices both for themselves and for their patients.

For example, they can make good choices about how they live and work, what they buy, what they eat and how they travel. But they can also introduce the climate emergency into conversations and discuss the benefits of greener living on individual and population health. In this way, patients can be guided to climate-friendly behaviours.

"Health professionals should be leaders who drive decarbonisation in hospitals"

Since healthcare contributes 4-5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and in the NHS, 62% of these emissions are from its supply chains and 24% from delivery of care, health professionals should be aware of sustainable choices they can make while at work.

The Journal states that "health professionals should be leaders who drive decarbonisation in hospitals" through reducing overdiagnosis and overtreatment in healthcare, eliminating waste, streamlining services, and better managing suppliers and procurement.

The NHS has declared an ambitious target of reaching net zero over the next two decades. Clinicians should therefore ensure they are holding the health service to account and pushing individual trusts and healthcare practices to take responsibility for reaching climate target.

As the BMJ write: “Power rests with governments and entrenched private interests, but people are not powerless … Health professionals must embrace these responsibilities, reaching out to patients, organisations, and colleagues in other sectors to accelerate the pace of change.”

"A sense of urgency is crucial before we run out of time"

The British Medical Association (BMA) has supported their plea, and says they are determined to do all they can to reduce their impact on the environment while encouraging healthcare professionals and wider society to do the same.

The Association are now calling on the UK government to introduce various measures to help reduce the carbon footprint of the health service, including:

  • A Clean Fleets Fund to help move the NHS fleet away from petrol and diesel vehicles;
  • Trusts and health boards must reduce plastic waste in their hospitals; and
  • Improved waste management practices across the NHS estate.

“Everyone in society has a role to play to influence change and a sense of urgency is crucial before we run out of time,” they added.