Sustainable healthcare education published in the Lancet

Monday, 1 December, 2014

The Lancet has this week published a letter about the curriculum for sustainable healthcare, based on work by CSH and the Sustainable Healthcare Education network over the last four years.   

The Sustainable Healthcare Education (SHE) Network involves academics, doctors and medical students from around the UK. Its aim is to introduce teaching about sustainable healthcare into the medical curriculum so that graduates are prepared to contribute to the coming changes in the NHS.

This week’s Lancet report highlights the Network's key achievement to date – the creation of a set of curriculum objectives for environmental sustainability in medical education. In a project co-led by CSH’s medical director, Frances Mortimer, three priority learning outcomes were developed in response to a request from the GMC and refined through a two-stage national consultation, involving medical educators, clinicians, trainees and students in 2013.  The hope is that this will lead to increased consideration of the environmental determinants of health in future iterations of Tomorrow’s Doctors, as well as postgraduate medical curricula.

Three learning objectives for sustainability and health care: 

  • Describe how the environment and human health interact
  • Demonstrate the knowledge and skills needed to improve the environmental sustainability of health systems
  • Discuss how the duty of a doctor to protect and promote health is affected by our dependence on the local and global environment

Stefi Barna, Lecturer in Global Public Health at Norwich Medical School and co-lead of the SHE Network, said: “Climate change is primarily a health issue. Doctors need to lead on adapting to, and preventing, the health threats it poses as part of their duty to protect and promote the health of the public.

“We need to overhaul the health care system for the 21st century to respond to many pressures, and this is one of them. As well as responding to new health risks, such as increased flooding, heatstroke and new diseases, we need to look at how the healthcare system itself contributes to climate change – and reduce its emissions.

 “We are working with the NHS to make significant reductions to its carbon footprint and improve patient outcomes at the same time.  We are preparing tomorrow’s doctors to lead the health system through a time of rapid environmental change. 

"Our research outlines the key concepts that doctors need to understand about how to identify, adapt to and prevent the health effects of climate change.

“Things like recycling more, and using less electricity will all help, but we are really looking at better and more efficient models of care. That means more prevention of chronic disease, for example by focusing on opportunities for active travel and promoting healthier, more environmentally friendly, diets.”

The Sustainable Healthcare Education network is made up of 10 medical schools, and coordinated through UEA and the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare. An expanded version of the learning objectives and teaching materials on sustainable healthcare are available from the SHE Network.