Health workers protest against GMC in climate aciton

Epsom’s Earth health doctor checks GMC


Epsom residents led by Dr. Kristine Damberg converged Thursday 18th April on the General Medical Council (GMC) headquarters in Central London, decrying what they perceive as the regulator’s lackluster response to the urgent health risks posed by climate change. The demonstration, organized by the Planetary Health Coalition, aimed to spotlight the pressing need for action on climate-related health issues affecting the community.

Dr Damberg protesting outside General Medical Council.

Dr. Kristine Damberg, Senior Simulation Practitioner and ESTH Sustainability Champion based at Epsom Hospital, voiced concerns about the immediate health impacts of climate change in the area. She lamented the rise in climate-related ailments among patients, including heat-related illnesses during the 2022 heatwave. Dr. Damberg emphasized the gravity of the situation, citing staggering statistics: “In the UK, 29-43,000 people die unnecessarily every year because of air pollution.”

Adding: “Even in a relatively affluent area like Epsom we are seeing these impacts on patients presenting to GP surgeries and hospitals. In the 2022 heatwave there were 3000 excess deaths in the UK and on the wards at Epsom Hospital the temperature was consistently above 30 degrees. It was extremely challenging for staff to work and keep already vulnerable patients safe at these extreme temperatures.”

She stressed the imperative for proactive measures, echoing The Lancet’s designation of climate change as the most significant global health threat of the 21st century. “We need to act now to protect our community.”

However, the GMC’s recent efforts to incorporate sustainability into medical ethics guidelines have fallen short, according to Dr. Rammina Yassaie, a medic and ethicist. She criticized the optional nature of these additions, stating, “Practising climate-conscious medicine should be a clear duty of a doctor.” She called for more robust guidance from the regulator to address the climate crisis head-on.

Epsom resident Warren Bunce echoed these sentiments, expressing disappointment in the GMC’s perceived inaction. “The General Medical Council’s silence on climate change is a betrayal of public health,” he asserted. He called for stronger support for healthcare professionals in Epsom and beyond to confront the health consequences of a warming planet.

Protestors also raised concerns about the GMC’s financial ties to fossil fuel industries. Dr. Christelle Blunden, a GP from Southampton, highlighted the disconnect between the GMC’s ethical standards and its investments. “Doctors want their money out of ecologically destructive industries,” Dr. Blunden stated. She emphasized the need for regulatory bodies to lead by example in addressing the climate crisis.

The protest occurred amidst growing legal restrictions on climate activism, with the recent conviction of Dr. Sarah Benn, a GP from Birmingham, serving as a stark reminder of the risks faced by healthcare workers advocating for environmental causes. Dr. Benn’s case underscored broader concerns about the erosion of protest rights in the UK, prompting calls for greater protection for activists.

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