Adapting health services to a changing climate

Changing weather patterns and increasing prices for energy, water and other resources are likely to have direct operational-level consequences for the delivery of services.

Weather patterns in the UK will show greater seasonal variation meaning:

  • hotter, drier summers, with more heatwaves and droughts
  • wetter winters, with more flooding and severe storms.

There are recent examples of extreme weather events disrupting service delivery in the United Kingdom (1) and these are predicted to become more frequent.

For example, 10 per cent of London's hospitals are at risk of river flooding (2).The Environment Agency’s online flood map shows which areas of the United Kingdom are at increased risk.

Adaptation measures will need to include:

  • reducing the vulnerability of health care facilities to flooding
  • modifying buildings to remain cool during summer
  • reducing water use to improve resilience to drought (2).

Ongoing research (eg, the BIOPICCC project at Durham University) is modelling the resilience of health and social care services and the public infrastructure on which they depend, but as yet, there is limited evidence on specific risks.

The operational consequences of climate change will vary across different areas. Organisations will need to assess the potential local impacts, and take measures to ensure that facilities, supply chains, infrastructure and workforce are resilient to environmental change. Energy security issues may become increasingly important for health care providers, and for the United Kingdom as a whole.

In addition to direct operational-level impacts on health services, climate change will also play a role in shaping the pattern of health needs in the UK. These implications are dealt with separately, in our broader determinants of health section.

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  1. Achour N (2010). Journal article. 'Resilience strategies of healthcare facilities: present and future'. International Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment, vol 1, pt 3, pp 264–76.
  2. London Climate Change Partnership (2011). Report. London's changing climate: In sickness and in health