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How does climate change affect the provision of healthcare?

Addressing climate change is probably the biggest challenge of this century. A lot of research has already been conducted into its effects on the natural environment, but in the future, there will be a greater need to understand the wider consequences of climate change, such as its impact on public health. Imperial College Business School is at the forefront of understanding how climate change will affect healthcare.

The main visible signs of the effects of climate change in Europe have been the numerous floods and heat waves. In the UK last year floods cost about £5bn, and the summer was the hottest on record. Global warming comes with increased climate variability that directly affects individuals’ environment, health and well-being on a regular basis.

Previous research has focused mainly on cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, but more frequent climatic variation also affects chronic diseases, trauma (more accidents over the cold spells), pregnancy (larger number of premature births are observed during winter) and allergies to name just a few. Therefore a global assessment of the healthcare sector is necessary in order to make accurate resource allocations within the health system.

Currently, available evidence regarding the impact of climate change on health in developed countries is very limited, covering either a short period of time, or a specific health condition, or represents only a small geographical area. This is something that needs addressing as projecting the impacts of climate change on the healthcare system is important for forecasting healthcare requirements and impacts.

At Imperial College Business School, we have a specialist team of researchers, collaborating with colleagues at Harvard University, focusing on the impact of climate variability on the healthcare system.

This research will help provide the first whole assessment of the weather’s impact on the public healthcare sector in the UK. These estimates will be crucial to supporting the adaptation of the sector, and for planning and allocating resources in the future. It will also inform specific prevention measures to reduce the number of hospital admissions and severity. Our methodology will also serve as a reference to make similar assessments in other countries.

Other recent research at Imperial College Business School is already making significant contributions to the understanding of the impact of climate change on health:

We are assessing NHS hospital admissions over 10 years and matching this to local daily weather data allowing us to precisely estimate the weather in each hospital’s location and to analyse any correlation between weather and hospital admissions.

By looking at all types of admissions, and weather types, and splitting analysis by different socio-economic groups to identify the vulnerable sub-populations, we were able to translate the impact of weather in terms of cost, which has never been done in the past to our knowledge.

In the future, we intend to expand our analysis to emergency care and outpatients to have a full picture of the impact of climate change on the public healthcare sector in the UK.

Our results will enable us to run micro-simulations of the future impacts of weather. We also intend to run similar analysis in other countries and are currently establishing a team of experts with collaborators in the USA and Chile.

The impact of climate change on our health will become an increasingly important societal issue in coming years that will have major consequences for governments, businesses and individuals. Imperial College Business School is a world leader in understanding these impacts to ensure that healthcare systems can adapt to the future uncertainty of climate change.

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About the author

Laure de Preux is a health and environmental economist. Laure joined Imperial College London in 2013 as a Research Associate, she is funded by the British Academy to investigate the impact of climate variability on health outcomes in the UK. Previously, she was a research officer at the Center for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics. In parallel, she obtained a PhD in Economics from the Centre for Health Economics at the University of York.

Her work has been published in Health Economics, the Journal of Public Economics and the American Economic Review among others.

Her research uses micro-econometrics, and quantitative policy analysis methods. She also has extensive expertise in the use of hospital and climate data.

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