August in the Emerald Isle of Great Britain is usually a time of warm sunshine, brighter gardens and lots of time to ramble across the hills and dales. The NHS gets a reprieve from the heaving winter and healthcare staff refresh before the winter rush starts again. Yet, this August and those over the last two years have felt different. Thanks to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the NHS has not experienced this reprieve, healthcare staff have had little chance to recover and helplessness is visible on many faces.
In these dark times, we need hope for a brighter future.
This hope has come in the form of events recovered from the lost year. For example, this year has seen the Euro 2020, Olympics 2020, Cricket 2020 and now the brilliance of the Wimbledon tennis. The GBR team’s excellent performance in the Tokyo Olympics has brought great cheer in many households. The stories of athletes like Lauren Price from Wales and young Galal Yafai from Birmingham have given us hope that anything is possible.
Healthcare in particular is all about hope in dark times. Just look at the huge amount of resources invested in end of life care, such as for cancer or other life-threatening diseases. Yet, less attention is given to preventing future crises. We talk about making the right choices for the future, but in the meantime, we ignore the way our diet and exercise choices lead us towards ill health. In other words, we talk the talk, but do we walk the walk?
The 2021 IPCC climate report is the sternest warning yet of the imminent natural calamity due to mass agriculture and industrialisation. We are hurtling into the eye of this inevitable ‘mahapralaya’. Yet, same as with our health, we are not doing enough to prevent future disaster.
The health service has a huge carbon footprint and there has been little awareness of the climatic impact of medical interventions, pharmaceutical industry and keeping our huge infrastructure lit and heated. Very few hospitals have invested in renewable energy sources, encouraging staff to reduce their carbon footprint or considered the impact of their decisions.
At an individual level, some of us are making a change from large gas-guzzling SUVs to cleaner energy vehicles, electric cars and public transport to get to work at the hospital. But this is merely tinkering at the edges. The massive carbon cost of healthcare facilities needs to be drastically reduced. We need to reduce unnecessary journeys for our patients attending routine follow up appointments. We need to invest more in technological solutions for remote health monitoring. We need to turn down heating or air conditioning, reduce waste and take many other measures.
Finally, for every decision that we make as individuals, healthcare professionals, leaders and captains of the industry, we need to examine the climate impact and lower it. Similarly, we need to invest in preventive healthcare interventions and educate people in making the right life choices that reduce future ill health. The answer is not to helplessly accept that the cost of healthcare provision will rise, year-on-year, due to scientific advancement. The answer is to use scientific advancement to drive the cost to the climate down and save our planet.
This summer, in healthcare, as in all areas of life, we have had to focus on managing a tough time. However, we must now turn our attention away from the present and focus on the future, to protect our health, our climate and our happiness.