ISOLATED communities in the Norther Territory will receive a major blow when up to a third of the territory’s doctors leave to escape the dangerous effects of climate change, according to a new report by ANU.
Researchers found that 19 per cent of doctors say they are likely to leave the territory and 14.9 per cent were considering leaving as a result of climate warming. Eighty-five per cent believe that climate change is already impacting the health of patients in the area.
Having lived through many hot summers in the NT, the Alice Springs-based doctor and ANU staff member, Simon Quilty, says climate change was already having deadly consequences to human health.
“Climate change could decimate our rural health workforce,” says Dr Quilty.
“Climate change is the biggest threat to health; not only does heat itself kill, but it worsens existing healthcare inequity in places most vulnerable to extreme heat.
“The NT already has the greatest health inequity of any state of Australia, and climate change is rapidly compromising the few gains that have been made.”
Climate migration in the territory is already well under way, according to Dr Quilty, with the study demonstrating that it is those with the resources to move and an understanding of the potential impacts who are already heading out.
The report, which surveyed 362 Northern Territory doctors, found climate impacts such as extreme heat could lead to health workforce shortages in rural and remote communities, which already struggle to attract and keep doctors.
“Australia should adopt a comprehensive National Plan for Health and Climate Change, and that must include ensuring we have the workforce for a hotter, more extreme future,” says Dr Quilty.
“We must address the need to bolster the workforce for remote and indigenous communities who are at particular risk.”
In December 2019 the NT’s maximum temperature was 4C above the long-term average, and in 2019 the NT’s third largest town, Katherine, recorded 54 days above 40C; a level of extreme heat associated with significantly increased illness and death.
“Climate change is a health emergency. We have no time to lose in urgently taking steps to protect Australians, in particular Territorians, and prepare our health sector and communities for worsening extremes,” says Dr Quilty.
“Health care workers overwhelmingly believe that climate change is real and is impacting human health – local policies and decisions can adversely impact the entire workforce. The NT government risks further destabilising its workforce if it is not a leader in the fight against climate change.”