Australian doctors have made a dire prediction on bushfire deaths

A new report, endorsed by some of the country's top medical colleges, warns the effects of climate change will place immense pressure on Australia's hospitals in the next 10 years.

Western Sydney GP Dr Kim Loo has started to dread the soaring summer temperatures.

Western Sydney GP Dr Kim Loo has started to dread the soaring summer temperatures. Source: SBS News

Australia's hospitals will struggle to cope with the growing burden of climate change unless urgent actions are taken, warns a new report from one of the country's largest medical colleges.

The report, from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, predicts climate-fuelled bushfires could contribute to the deaths of more than 1,000 people in the next 10 years, and cost the healthcare system some $69 million.

"Our leaders do need to make a decision about how they're going to manage climate change and its effects on the healthcare sector," says RACP president Professor John Wilson.

"Now, if you wish to sit on the railway line and wait until it happens, then there is an enormous price to pay."

The report warns that bushfires could contribute to more than 1000 deaths in the next 10 years.
Source: AAP

The report, prepared by the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, has been endorsed by some of Australia's top medical training bodies, including the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, and the College of Intensive Care Medicine.

"You would have seen appeals from numerous scientists and respected eminent academics who have asked for appropriate climate change legislation and appropriate zero-emission targets that will meet the needs of the Australian people," Dr Wilson told SBS News.

"We are now leading the call for change in the health sector."

A feeling of dread

Dr Kim Loo, a GP in the suburb of Riverstone on Sydney's northwestern outskirts, says she has come to dread the soaring temperatures of summer. 

"During the Black Summer, my patients were subjected to 80 days of smoke and then the heat waves as well at the same time," she told SBS News.

"I've got patients who live on their own - they're socially isolated, and that is such a big risk for them getting really sick and dying during heat waves."

Rebecca DeMarco's son was just three months old when the 2019 bushfire crisis struck.

"If you have young children that aren’t able to just go outside and be in fresh air, it has a massive impact. I do really worry about that."

Rebecca DeMarco fears that scorching heatwaves and bushfire smoke will impact the health of her kids.
Source: SBS News

She now fears climate change will turn summer into something that is endured, rather than enjoyed.

"I think the more that we learn about it and understand that it’s coming sooner than we all realise, it definitely makes me concerned for what sort of futures they are going to have."

'Already seeing the impacts'

The RACP report calls on the government to set more ambitious targets for emissions reduction over the short term.

It also urges the government to adopt a dedicated strategy for mitigating the impacts of climate change on the healthcare sector.

The federal government has committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2050. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the government's net zero plan is "responsible" and "practical".

However Dr Karen Price, the president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, said there was a clear need for the Australian government to commit to stronger 2030 emissions targets.

"Climate change is a health emergency," Dr Price said.

"GPs across Australia are already seeing the impacts, such as the tragic 2019 Black Summer bushfires, which devastated so many communities and had a lasting impact on people's health and wellbeing."

The health department said it "welcomed the report" and looked forward to reviewing its recommendations in detail. 

"The Department of Health is working with the states and territories to ensure that Australia’s capacity to respond to the health impacts of climate change are appropriate and effective," a spokesperson said. 

The offices of Health Minister Greg Hunt and Energy Minister Angus Taylor were contacted for comment. 

Published 2 December 2021 at 12:56pm, updated 2 December 2021 at 1:53pm
By Steven Trask
Source: SBS News