Senior doctors have warned the profession has a responsibility to speak out about the impact of climate change on health, and called for government action to promote 'low-carbon lifestyles'.
GPC negotiator Dr Richard Vautrey said climate change could hit vulnerable people with co-morbidities. 'We are likely to see illnesses associated with Mediterranean or even tropical climates,' he said. 'The effect of temperature on people's health would make it a greater challenge for those with existing conditions.'
His comments came as senior doctors from across the world launched a plan to mobilise health professionals to tackle climate change last week.
The International Climate and Health Council comprises senior doctors from the UK, Australia, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.
It has been formed ahead of the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen this month.
The doctors want urgent government-led action to promote the adoption of low carbon lifestyles.
Professor Ian Gilmore, a founding member of the group and president of the Royal College of Physicians, said doctors must speak out on how climate change will damage health.
Milder winters may mean a rise in respiratory illness while hotter summers could prompt an increase in deaths.
'It is an international problem. There will be global water and food shortages and the UK would be hit by the consequences,' he added.
Adopting a low-carbon lifestyle would bring many health benefits to patients and help the environment, Professor Gilmore said. Patients could be encouraged to drive less and eat less meat.
'Meat production is a great contributor to carbon emissions and reducing it is good for cancer and heart disease,' he said.
NHS chief David Nicholson said the health service created 3 per cent of England's annual carbon emissions, and had a responsibility to cut its 'massive carbon footprint'.