Most of you know me well enough now to know that my passion is in supporting people to live healthier lives, it’s why I do what I do. So, when I noted it was World Health and Safety Day this month, I’ve taken the opportunity to write you a brief blog on this year’s topic which is exploring the effects of climate change and its impacts on health.

My only hope is that you find my experiences thought provoking and that it supports us all to open our minds on what we do, why we do it and the impacts of our actions on our health now and future generations. We all come to work to support each other and the individuals within our services, and as the Trust goes through a period of change, we know we need to consider different ways of achieving our goals and that might just need to include looking at the environment in which we do our jobs.

Improving the environment comes in two stages, firstly looking at how our activities may be negatively impacting the environment and starting to look at how we can work to control it. It doesn’t have to be massive changes, it all starts with a step in the right direction. Please keep this in your mind as you read further as we can always think ‘what can I do to help?’ but we know that change starts with one person being brave enough to make a start.

In my experience I’ve found that it is often assumed that our health outcomes are at least mostly determined by clinical or medical factors however when we really look at what is making us unwell its proven that actually 80% of what affects us is the social and environmental factors we are exposed to.

What does this mean in plain talk? Basically, our access to education, healthcare, social interaction, and our built environment are way more important in determining our health outcomes than any doctor. I mean, of course it’s important to have a GP but in reality, why do most of us go at the minute? It’s because our mental wellbeing isn’t in a good place or because we have been exposed to something in our environment that has made us physically unwell.

So given that this year’s topic is around the environmental Impacts, lets stick to that angle for now.

What are some of the biggest environmentally driven health impacts and outcomes we need to consider?

Air pollution – Higher levels of air pollution alongside rising temperatures can trigger respiratory diseases such as asthma and lung disease.

Changes in weather – When the weather changes like it does, it can cause migration of certain animals and insects that are likely to spread disease such as Lyme Disease and Malaria to new geographical areas.

Increases in allergens – higher levels of pollen and longer pollen seasons will aggravate allergies and asthma.

Water Quality and Food Supply – Rising sea levels, droughts and extreme weather may contaminate water supplies and limit access to safe drinking water. Changing growing seasons and droughts pose a threat to food security and lower the nutritional quality of the food supply.

Extreme Heat – Extreme heat results in higher rates of death from heat stroke, cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease. In addition, higher rates of hospital admissions for illnesses such as kidney problems and irregular heartbeats. People suffering with depression can be negatively affected by high temperatures leading to higher rates of stress. Psychiatric medications can increase people’s sensitivity to heat also which makes it difficult for people to regulate their body temperature.

Mental Health – Direct and gradual impacts from changes on the environment, effects on society and infrastructure can cause stress, depression anxiety and other mental health impacts.

Infrastructure Degradation – Changes in weather patterns are starting to affect our infrastructure and more predominately the homes in which we live. Damp and mould are a key factor that we are seeing more of which will affect not only our respiratory systems but mental wellbeing also.

With all of the above in mind, we have to go back to the original point of what can we do?

I think we must look at how our activities may be negatively impacting the environment and starting to look at how we can work to control it. As a Trust we can and should look to advocate and use our influence within our sector to encourage change. The NHS is already making strides to move forward in this area, we just need to jump on board.

As a Trust we need to start to look at practices such as our education and instruction on environmental management for both our staff and people we support, waste management, deliveries, what contractors we use, how we manage temperatures in our residential and office buildings, how we travel and navigate our work, energy saving opportunities and how prepared we are for emergencies. There is lots to think about.

To move forward in reducing our impact we must start with people first, connect on common values and agreed points of focus, make the issues ‘real’ and look at how it affects us and our sector. It’s important that we emphasize on being solution driven whilst inspiring and empowering each other. It can be the last 10 minutes on your team meeting agenda, a chat in the office over the printer as to how we can move away from ordering so much paper or a chat over lunch about the foods we eat… we all know I love a good food discussion!

A lot of you will know that my favourite term is ‘yes, but what’s the root cause’, and in this case we know that one of the biggest ones is us and our habits when it comes to the climate changing.

It’s within our control.

You don’t need to wait to be instructed, small steps are important, It all matters.

If you want to learn a bit more on climate change and its affects, you can watch David Attenborough: The Truth about Climate Change on You tube or on BBC iPlayer.

Happy World Health and Safety Day everyone!

Lisa Johns
Strategic Lead – Health, Safety and Estates