More than 50 health leaders meeting at the Better Futures Forum at UNSW Canberra have created an ambitious implementation plan to slash health-related carbon emissions, save money and improve patient care.
“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,” said Dr Stefanie Carino, the Sustainable Healthcare Manager at the Climate and Health Alliance.
The 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,” Carino said. “The UK’s Sustainable Health Unit reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 11% in 10 years, while healthcare activity increased by 18%.”
By 2017, the financial savings amounted to £90 million (over AU$150m) per year, mainly from energy, waste and water initiatives.
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 health care.
“A national Sustainable Healthcare Unit would play an important role in coordinating the national response to climate change and healthcare decarbonisation efforts. 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,” Carino said.