The health sector is responsible for 7 per cent of Australia’s carbon emissions. Over fifty health leaders meeting at the Better Futures Forum at UNSW Canberra this week have created an ambitious implementation plan which they say will slash health-related carbon emissions, save money, and improve patient care.
Dr Stefanie Carino, the Sustainable Healthcare Manager at the Climate and Health Alliance, said ‘Hospitals, surgeries and clinics use huge amounts of energy, and produce mountains of waste each year. We can improve this right now by sourcing energy from renewable sources, electrifying transport fleets, expanding telehealth, decarbonising the supply chain, and putting in place water and waste management strategies.’
A role for government
Health leaders are calling on the government to create a national Sustainable Healthcare Unit in the Commonwealth Department of Health to guide the health sector towards environmentally sustainable, decarbonised operations. This model has already been implemented in the UK, and is being adopted in some states, including WA, Queensland and NSW.
‘The UK National Health System has shown us what’s possible,’ said Dr Carino. ‘The UK’s Sustainable Health Unit reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 11 per cent in 10 years, while health care activity increased by 18 per cent.’
CAHA says that by 2017, the financial savings amounted to £90 million (over A$150m) per year, mainly from energy, waste and water initiatives.
Green medicine push
In Australia, over 100 health systems and health networks are members of the regional network of Global Green and Healthy Hospital, an international community of practice working towards climate resilient, low carbon healthcare.
‘A national Sustainable Healthcare Unit would play an important role in coordinating the national response to climate change, and healthcare decarbonisation efforts,’ said Dr Carino. ‘CAHA looks forward to working with Minister Butler and his department to formulate the way forward.
‘The health sector is already getting on with the job. Hospitals and health clinics are taking practical steps right now, with the guidance of state governments. But we need federal leadership to decarbonise our healthcare system to the scale that’s needed,’ she said.