“We either change everything or we get changed,” was the message from John Gibbons, the final speaker at our Green Health Symposium on 6 November. The journalist and climate activist urged healthcare professionals in attendance to have courage and take immediate action to tackle the climate crisis.
This call to action was a fitting end to a day which took an unflinching look at the health of the planet and its inhabitants, and asked some big questions on how healthcare can adapt to environmental challenges and mitigate future environmental damage.
The Green Health Symposium was presented in partnership with APC Microbiome Ireland and the Irish Heart Foundation with the aim of beginning a robust dialogue on human health, the healthcare system and the planet. A wide range of topics was addressed, from phage therapy and the microbiosphere to the active commute and air pollution.
Prof Michael Depledge, cofounder and chair of the European Centre for Environment and Human Health, delivered the keynote speech and concluded by asking, “What is the medical community’s response when you leave this place today?”
Ahead of the event the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland commissioned a survey of their Members and Fellows on their views about the role of doctors in sustainability, the results were presented on the day by Dr Ina Kelly. Ninety five per cent of those surveyed said that they would like to take a leadership role in this area, something was certainly reflected by the lively engagement and debate on the day of the Symposium.
Dr Sadhbh Lee from Irish Doctors for the Environment said to delegates, “we have to get involved” and shared practical advice and links to organisations such as hers, which healthcare professionals can get involved in and get advice from (links at the end of this piece).
The College was particularly pleased to welcome two of our HSTs, Dr Cathal O’Connor and Dr Orla O’Carroll, who spoke on the environmental impact of dermatology outreach clinics and single use plastics in hospitals respectively.
In terms of green credentials on the day, Dr Brian McNicholl deserves special mention, he cycled to the conference from Galway, a journey that took over 11 hours.
Dr McNicholl said that, “climate change has an impact on everybody” and that by getting on our bikes to make a journey it is not only good for the planet, our mental and physical health but can also reduce the number of cars on the road. The Consultant in Emergency Medicine said in a practical way, “[car] accidents could potentially reduce too.”
Summing up the day, RCPI President Prof Mary Horgan praised the speakers and reiterated the commitment of the College in the area of sustainability. To mark the Symposium, the College planted ten native Irish trees in West Clare via the Hometree initiative.
Interesting in getting involved in the area of the environment and healthcare? You can find out more via these organisations and websites:
Irish Doctors for the Environment, www.ide.ie
Green Healthcare, www.greenhealthcare.ie
Health Care Without Harm, www.noharm.org
Practice Green Health, www.practicegreenhealth.org
To plant some native trees in Ireland visit www.hometree.ie