The festive period leading into the new year is a time of reflection for many people.
I’ve been considering my carbon footprint ahead of another seasonal period which can often mean food flown in from around the world and mountains of plastic presents you don’t necessarily need.
It is something that has been on my mind for some time – in the health service we are party to an overwhelming reliance on single-use plastics and during the pandemic I’ve felt particularly concerned about the seemingly-endless stream of PPE (personal protective equipment) we’ve worn for sometimes just a matter of seconds or minutes before casting into the bin.
I’ve also had experiences in the NHS which have highlighted the problems we face – such as trying to arrange a recycling bin for the doctors’ mess, only to be told the hospital’s PFI contract would mean I couldn’t do so. Sometimes my effect, and the effect of the health service, on climate change feels overwhelming.
The events of the UN COP26 conference in Glasgow have really sharpened my focus on this issue and I wanted to share with you what your BMA is doing to ensure we, as a profession, and as a trade union and professional association, are at the heart of progress in this area – and also appeal for your help to do more.
I am, as ever, desperately keen for our members, from all parts of the profession and all areas of the country, to contribute directly to the work we do. We have some 163,000 members in this organisation and we can do great things if we work together.
The BMA has been actively lobbying on climate change for some time and we are a member organisation of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change.
The BMA is joined in the alliance by almost all of the medical royal colleges, the BMJ and The Lancet as well as a number of others. Together, the membership is some 900,000 including the vast majority of the NHS workforce.
Did you know, that as BMA members, that includes you? The alliance campaigns to mitigate the effects of climate change – by far the major threat to global health – and emphasise the benefits to health that would follow from decarbonising our economy.
There are also direct physical risks to the NHS itself too, with almost 10 per cent of the UK’s hospitals at risk of floods.
The alliance is campaigning on the Environment Bill, air pollution, the national food strategy, and a wide variety of other issues.
We health professionals know that climate change is a major threat to health and many of us are seeing the effects in our patients – from air pollution, extreme heat, floods, and anxiety over the seriousness of our predicament.
As a paediatric respiratory junior doctor I have certainly seen these first-hand. Your BMA is also doing a lot of work independently around these issues. We know we have a great deal of challenges to address internally in the organisation, and in our work externally.
We worked with leading health organisations and medical bodies to emphasise the need for a health focus at the COP26.
We joined more than 450 organisations in signing an open letter to government leaders and national delegations ahead of the event, warning that the climate crisis is the single biggest health threat facing humanity and calling on world leaders to deliver climate action.
We have also lobbied the UK Government to introduce a legally binding commitment to reduce fine particulate air pollution (PM 2.5) across the country.
There is always room to do more, though, and on an issue of such monumental importance we cannot afford any complacency.
I would particularly like every one of you with a passion for these issues, experiences of these problems or solutions for the future to come forward to help drive and shape our work.
If you have any stories to share or feel you could contribute to the debate and our work as an association please contact me via email.
Dr Latifa Patel is interim chair of the BMA representative body