Dr David Pencheon, speaking at the RCGP’s annual conference in Harrogate last week, said the medical profession tended to speak very little about climate change even though The Lancet described it as ‘the biggest health threat of the 21st century’.
If unchecked, it would lead to an increase in illnesses such as skin cancer and malaria as well as other threats to well-being such as crop failure, floods, migration and civil unrest.
‘We have a profound duty of care here. It’s happening on our watch. It’s the cholera of our time,’ said Dr Pencheon.
But many GPs did not see it as a priority because they felt they already made a contribution to maintaining the health of the population, he said.
‘There is a sense of "We’re already doing great things. I see patients all day – you want me to save the planet as well?"’ said Dr Pencheon.
‘The difficult thing for doctors is to manage the day job and do something that health systems rarely do very well which is to manage the future.’
There was a need to design health systems that met the needs of the present without compromising the ability of others in the future or elsewhere now to meet their own needs.
And he called on doctors to use their role to tackle climate change as they have with other health threats such as smoking and HIV.
The carbon footprint of NHS England is 21 million tones of CO2 each year and the NHS accounts for a quarter of the public sector’s carbon footprint.
- Are you implementing sustainable healthcare? Share your ideas by entering the GP Enterprise Awards 2011 – with £10,000 worth of prizes.
More video highlights from the RCGP Conference