August in the Emerald isles of Great Britain, is usually a time of warm sunshine, gardens taking on a brighter hue, azure skies with occasional clouds and lots of time to read and ramble across the hills and dales. The NHS gets a reprieve from the heaving winters and healthcare staff refresh and rewind before the winter rush starts again. It has been observed that the 31 days of August are the most enjoyable when the happiness quotient is directly related to the hours of sunshine. The VitD stores are also given a chance to recover. Yet, this August and perhaps for some such summers in the last few years have felt different. The NHS has not experienced the reprieve, there has been little chance of healthcare staff recovering their composure and a sense of helplessness is visible on many a strained countenance. The last 2 summers as a result of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been like never before.
Many have erased 2020 from their collective memories. We are living the lost year in 2021, with the highs of Euro2020, Olympics 2020, the Cricket 2020 and now the brilliance of the Queen’s as well as the Wimbledon tennis. The brilliant performance of the GBR team in the Tokyo Olympics has brought great cheer in many households as we have wept tears of joy and punched the air as stories of personal ambition, endeavour and sheer skill/ endurance have paid dividends. The stories of athletes such as Lauren Price from Wales and young Galal Yafai from Birmingham have given us hope that all is possible if one were to put one’s mind to it.
Healthcare is all about hope when the going gets tough, as we see in the huge amount of resources that are invested in facilities towards the end of life, for cancer and life-threatening diseases. Yet, less attention is given to the stage when the going is great, but the decisions, choices (diet, food and exercise) lead inevitably to many adverse outcomes. We talk about vision and learning lessons and making the right choices while we consider predicting the future outcomes. We talk the talk but do we walk the walk?
The IPCC climate report of 2021, gives a dire warning of rising temperatures, large scale devastation and destruction of our ways of life. This is the sternest warning yet where the imminent calamity that we due to mass agriculture and industrialisation are rapidly bringing upon our planet, is almost staring us in the eye. We are inexorably hurtling into the eye of this inevitable ‘mahapralaya’. Yet are we listening?
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 moving to push-bikes/ walking. But this is merely tinkering at the edges. The massive carbon cost of healthcare facilities needs to be drastically reduced. We need to reduce the unnecessary journeys for our patients attending routine follow up appointments and invest more in technological solutions of remote monitoring. We need to turn down heating or air conditioning, make changes in estates, reduce waste and many other measures.
Finally, for every decision that we make as individuals, healthcare professionals, leaders and captains of the industry, we need to critically and forensically examine the climate impact and choose to lower this at high cost. Similarly, we need to make the investment in preventive healthcare interventions, educate our people in making the right life choices for the future so that the burden of ill-health in the future can be reduced. The answer is not to accept rather helplessly that the cost of healthcare provision will rise, year-on-year due to scientific and technological advancement – but that technological innovation must drive the cost to the climate/ planet down and we must decide to adopt / choose such interventions that save us and the planet. One or the other is not an option.
This summer, let us take the first step in choosing our planet’s health- for therein lies our own.
Dr Indranil Chakravorty
Feature image by Pixabay