Doctors declare climate change a public health emergency

The UK’s oldest medical trade union has sent an open letter to the four Labour party leadership contenders, demanding they recognise climate change as a public health emergency. 

Doctors in Unite said that flooding, heatwaves, tropical diseases and toxic air pollution are already putting the public’s health at risk.

The union’s chair Dr Jackie Applebee urged all candidates to commit to a series of transformative green policies, including massive public transport investment, extra money for hospitals during extreme weather events, and an increase in international aid for other nations affected by climate change.

“A Labour government managed to create the welfare state out of the ashes of the second world war,” she wrote. “You could make the UK a world leader in green technology and a beacon of hope for other countries to emulate.”

Doctors in Unite plans to protest the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow later this year, to highlight the devastating impact of climate change on the health of everyone in the UK.

Read the letter in full

A call to activism from chair Jackie Applebee

The chair of Doctors in Unite has called her union to action in the face of the calamitous 2019 general election result.

Dr Jackie Applebee said she was “horrified” by the outcome.

“We cannot sit back and wait for the next general election in five years, before campaigning on issues that affect the people’s health” she wrote in a motion before the 2020 conference.

Dr Applebee explained that five more years of unchallenged Tory rule will mean “potentially fatal attacks on the NHS” and “further increases in mortality as austerity is extended.” She also feared that unchecked, the government would create a “headlong gallop into irreversible climate change.”

Extinction rebellion

She urged the union to build and take part in climate action in workplaces and communities, and successfully passed a motion to affiliate the union to the Campaign Against Climate Change and Extinction Rebellion. She recommended that union members protest the 2020 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, beginning November 9th.

Dr Applebee argued that the new government would also undermine trade union rights, and called on the union to oppose any attacks on workers.

Hostile environment

Broader concerns were raised about the impact of the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy, where immigration enforcement can access personal data collected by the NHS. A linked proposal to affiliate the union with Stand Up To Racism was passed unanimously.

Budget cuts for local councils were also addressed as a concerning prospect under the new Tory government. A commitment to campaign against such cuts was made. 

Dr Applebee made a final, heartfelt call for doctors to “continue to campaign for the reinstatement of the NHS as a comprehensive health service, publicly funded, publicly provided”.