Climate change action must be coordinated across the public health system

August 5, 2021

The World Health Organization has described climate as the greatest threat to public health in the 21st century. But with this challenge comes great opportunity.

Our health and human services system touches the lives of every Victorian, particularly vulnerable and disadvantaged communities, who are also disproportionately affected by climate change.

That’s why the VHA has been working with members to help them better understand the risks of climate change to our public health system, and how they can continue to adapt and become more resilient.

The Department of Health recently released the Health and Human Services Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan 2022-2026 (the Plan) for public consultation. The Plan proposes 14 strategic actions that Victoria’s health and human services system can take over the next five years to address current climate change impacts, reduce barriers to adaptation planning and action, and lay the foundations for transformational adaptation.

The proposed actions in the draft Plan are designed to be implemented by the Department of Health and the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing at the system level. However, there are a number of actions in the Plan that provide opportunities for health and human services to deliver adaptation action or support adaptation through the health services provided to the community.

On Wednesday 28 July, the VHA delivered a two-hour, virtual consultation forum for members from Victoria’s public health services sector. The forum captured feedback on the Plan from attendees representing hospitals, community health, emergency, dental and small rural health services.

Feedback gathered at the forum demonstrated that climate adaptation is already underway across the public health sector, and the sector is keen for additional government support to deliver climate change adaptation actions.

Participants identified key themes to be considered for inclusion in the draft Plan, including the expansion of the Plan to reflect the entire public health service system, a coordinated approach that builds on existing systems, and provision of appropriate resources to support implementation.

Importantly, the sector identified strengths and expertise that position it to play a leading role in place-based climate responses that support local communities.

The VHA has prepared a submission to the department’s public consultation, which is available for members to download.

In addition to strong interest in implementing climate change adaptation, participants were keen to share practice through a state-wide Climate Adaptation Network.

The VHA is aware a metro-hospital-focused network exists and will scope opportunities to build on existing networks to provide wider sector support specific to climate change adaptation.