Floods could become a ‘major public health problem,’ professionals warn

The flooding could become a “major public health problem”, have warned professionals who are concerned that climate change will cause further waterborne damage to NHS infrastructure.

Between April 2021 and March 2022, there were 176 flooding incidents at NHS sites across the UK, according to research by the non-profit Round Our Way.

General acute care hospitals, which provide inpatient medical care, surgery and services for acute medical conditions or injuries, bore the brunt of the damage.

The worst affected regions were the East of England and London, with 63 and 52 cases of flooding respectively.

In 2021, London was affected by two extreme rain storms. In July 2021, a month’s worth of rain fell on the capital in just three hours, flooding 31 metro stations and 2,000 properties.

The most affected NHS sites in the Round Our Way analysis were the Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust with 30 incidents; Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust, Essex, with 27 incidents; and Barnet, Enfield and Haringey NHS Trust, London, with 14 incidents.

Alexis Percival, manager of the Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, said: “The floods have certainly caused damage to the healthcare infrastructure and are very disruptive to staff and patients.

“Our area is not even in the top 10 listed in the report, but we have seen flooding making roads impassable, leaving ambulances unable to get to patients in time, key NHS workers struggling to get there. to work and patients miss appointments.

Sheffield floods November 2019

An ambulance trapped in a flood in Sheffield in November 2019 (Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust/PA)

“This is before we get to the longer-term issues, like the impact on people’s mental health and the threat of increased waterborne diseases.

“Only three weeks ago, flooding came worryingly close to Fairfields, Yorkshire’s main 999 call centre. I am genuinely concerned if we don’t tackle climate change, today’s near misses could become tomorrow’s major disruptions to our NHS.”

Research from the University of Bristol found that if climate change raises average global temperatures by up to 3.3°C above pre-industrial levels, flood damage in the UK could increase by more than a fifth. part.

The Met Office has said that key infrastructure such as hospitals will be significantly more exposed to flooding in the future due to climate change.

He has also recently published research that predicts extreme downpours will be four times as likely by the 2080s if greenhouse gas emissions remain high.

Winters are also expected to become wetter, coinciding with periods when the NHS is under increased pressure.

Dozens of NHS Trusts and ambulance services declared critical incidents last winter as they struggled to cope with the number of patients.

Professor Maggie Rae, Chair of the Royal Society of Medicine Section of Epidemiology and Public Health, said: “Floods have the potential to become a major public health problem.

“In addition to the direct risks to life and health, this report is a timely reminder that flooding can destroy the infrastructure we depend on to access and provide medical care, such as hospitals, roads, and communications.

Flooding just outside the Yorkshire 999 call center in Fairfield, Doncaster

The Met Office has said that hospital infrastructure, such as the 999 call center in Sheffield, will be significantly more exposed in the future due to climate change (Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust/PA)

“We must also not forget the great effect that flooding can have on people’s mental health.

“It is recognized that the NHS is already overburdened to deal with the burden of disease in our country.

“We need to make sure that the floods do not cause major incidents that will inevitably affect people’s health and health services.”

Round Our Way founder and director Roger Harding added: “Our report shows that flooding is already hitting the NHS hard.

“The Government must ensure that this essential service is better prepared and deal with climate change that makes extreme downpours increasingly likely.

“If they don’t act, this flood stream could turn into a deluge, and those of us who trust the NHS the most will bear the brunt.”


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