Doctors, nurses make emergency call on federal budget

Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson |

The government is urged to ensure people can get vital health services in extreme weather events.
The government is urged to ensure people can get vital health services in extreme weather events.

More than 40 groups representing doctors, nurses, researchers and hospitals are calling on the federal government to ensure Australians can access vital health services during extreme weather events.

The Climate and Health Alliance took out a full-page newspaper advertisement on Tuesday to raise awareness of the call to action, urging the government to fund the National Health and Climate Strategy it unveiled last December.

The prominent ad follows a summer of natural disasters the group said endangered Australians’ health and challenged emergency services, including heatwaves, power outages, floods and bushfires.

The 42 groups that signed the call to action include Asthma Australia, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, and Macquarie University. 

Alliance policy and advocacy manager Chelsea Hunnisett said the industry-wide show of support should underline the importance of the policy to the healthcare sector. 

“We have a national health and climate strategy that was hard fought-for over a decade, it’s had strong endorsement from the health sector and consumer organisations, and unfortunately it does’t look like it’s going to be funded in the upcoming budget,” she said.

“We’re very concerned that health outcomes as a result of climate change are only getting worse and Australia is not prepared to deal with that.”

A bushfire in Victoria.
Bushfires, floods, storms and droughts are among extreme weather events hammering Australia. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

The policy, released in December 2023, outlines policies to deal with extreme heat, floods, fires, air pollution and drought and identifies decarbonisation, resilience for health services, and international collaboration among its priorities. 

Ms Hunnisett said the group would like to see funding allocated in the May federal budget to ready staff for weather extremes, provide more equipment and deliver early warning systems.

“We need hospitals to be prepared, we need GP clinics to be prepared, we need the workforce to be prepared,” she said. 

“We want to make sure the health complications that arise from climate change are reduced as much as possible and that the systems are bolstered for those events we can’t prevent.”

The call to action comes after a busy season that included record heat in Western Australia that tested its ambulance service, widespread bushfires in Victoria, and severe storms in Queensland that caused widespread power outages.

Louise Sparkes, chief executive at Gippsland Southern Health Service, said both of its hospitals were left without electricity and communications during the largest power outage in Victorian history last month.

She said greater investments were needed to deal with extreme and unpredictable weather events in future and keep crucial services available.  

“I will be making big changes in preparation for the next event so I can be ready,” she said.

“It would be great to do this as a region and fund it so it can be done correctly.”