News & Media Opinion Pieces MJAInsight+: Embedding sustainability in health care – our wellbeing depends on it

MJAInsight+: Embedding sustainability in health care – our wellbeing depends on it

MJAInsight+: Embedding sustainability in health care – our wellbeing depends on it

The health sector, whose role is to protect public health, must be front and centre in the battle against climate change, write Dr Eugenie Kayak and Dr Ben Dunne.

Australia’s health care sector is one of the largest per capita emitters in the world, with an estimated 35.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions annually, equivalent to over 7% of Australia’s total emissions.

The Australian health care sector this year has several opportunities to address its planetary health responsibility and take a lead in working towards more sustainable, low carbon health care.

Significantly, the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC) — responsible for national accreditation in relation to health care safety and quality matters — is developing a Sustainable Healthcare Module, whose Consultation Paper can be found here.

Doctors for the Environment Australia’s joint submission with the Australian Medical Association has made several important high-level recommendations for inclusion in the final Module. One of these is to transition the sector to a mandatory accreditation standard as soon as possible to reflect the urgency for climate action from all high-emitting sectors.

Another opportunity for the health care sector to lead on sustainable health care is for Australia to join the Alliance for Transformative Action on Climate and Health (ATACH) which aims to build climate-resilient and sustainable low carbon health systems.

The ACQHS Module and ATACH are well timed to align with the Department of Health and Aged Care’s National Health Sustainability and Climate Unit as it develops a National Health and Climate Strategy over the course of 2023 and works to reduce health care’s emissions.

Read the full opinion article which was published in MJAInsight+ on 5 June 2023.

About the authors

Dr Eugenie Kayak is Co-convenor of Doctors for the Environment Australia’s Sustainable Healthcare Special Interest Group, Enterprise Professor of Sustainable Healthcare at the Melbourne Medical School, University of Melbourne, and an Anaesthetist.

Dr Ben Dunne is Co-Convenor for the Doctors for the Environment Australia Sustainable Healthcare Special Interest Group and a Thoracic Surgeon at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. He is a member of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Environmental Sustainability in Surgical Practice Working Party, and is the Chair of the University of Melbourne Environmentally Sustainable Surgery Network.