Health professionals from around the country are meeting today in Wellington, to talk about how the NZ health sector can respond to the challenges of climate change for health and healthcare services. This is the first national ‘Sustainable Healthcare in Aotearoa-NZ’ forum. This event is open to the media.

Flooding, storms and sea level rise caused by climate change are already beginning to directly impact health sector infrastructure and services. The sector will also have to respond to changing disease patterns caused by climate change, as outlined in a recent Royal Society scientific report.

Dr Alex Macmillan was an advisor to the Royal Society Report. She is a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Health, co-convenor of the NZ Climate & Health Council and a speaker at today’s conference. She says: “The negative impacts of climate change on health require a co-ordinated health sector response – to adapt health services to expected changes, and to reduce the health sector’s own climate pollution”.

“Action by the health sector to reduce climate and other pollution can also bring cost savings and quality improvement, as well as aligning with the health sector’s core purpose to protect health and to heal” Dr Macmillan adds.

The forum is being held at the University of Otago Wellington with international and NZ speakers who are responding to climate change and reducing health sector pollution. It includes local demonstration projects and case studies of successful action. The Honourable Julie Anne Genter, the new Associate Minister for Health, will be addressing the forum at 3.30pm.

“Health systems overseas, such as the National Health System (NHS) in the UK are already well ahead of NZ in this area, and are reaping financial and health benefits. While there are some fantastic examples of good practice emerging in New Zealand we need much greater national commitment and coordination across the sector” says Dr Macmillan. “We would like to see the necessary national first steps happening, including requiring all District Health Boards to measure, report and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions”.

“There also needs to be an urgent phasing out of the 35 hospital coal boilers around the country. As a significant source of air pollution and a driver of climate change, coal burning is totally inconsistent with the purpose of the health sector to protect health” says Dr Macmillan.

The forum has been organised by the Sustainable Health Sector National Network NZ and OraTaiao: The NZ Climate and Health Council, with support from the University of Otago, the Deep South National Science Challenge and the Green Building Council.

Read the NZ Medical Journal 2014 paper here: ‘Health and equity impacts of climate change in Aotearoa-New Zealand, and health gains from climate action’.

PR: OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council

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