Climate change: from feeling overwhelmed to feeling informed (we hope!)

Dr Rosy Wells, Consultant in Paediatric Allergy at St Georges University Hospital, highlights the results of a survey set up to help the RCPCH Climate Change Working Group understand how paediatricians feel about climate change.
Rosy Wells on a road bike
Dr Rosy Wells, Consultant in Paediatric Allergy, St Georges University Hospital

In 2021, five workstream groups were set up to focus on different areas of climate change action within the College, and we are known as the climate change working group (or CCWG). The ‘support for members’ workstream’s overall aim is to provide College members with appropriate support and resources to enable them to practice sustainable healthcare. 

To help understand how paediatricians feel about climate change and gauge where we need to focus our work, the CCWG included some questions within the 2021 members survey with some interesting results.

The results

Over 3,000 members responded to the survey. It was exciting and reassuring to find that 95% of members felt that climate change is important or very important for the health and wellbeing of children and young people. This is in keeping with the College’s standpoint and we hope will translate into paediatricians making positive changes.

Question: How important do you think climate change is for the health and wellbeing of children and young people?

Rather disappointingly, one third of members (33.64%) were not aware at all of the work that the college is doing on climate change and 42% were only a little aware- something that we really hope to improve through the working groups.  

Question: To what extent are you aware of the following College activities or projects?

We also asked about the main barriers for members to make changes to ensure their practice is more sustainable and found that lack of time was the most common reason given (61%), followed by lack of funding (48%) and lack of knowledge of how climate change affects paediatrics and child health (47%). One third of members (32%) felt that there was resistance from management to make changes. Sixteen percent of members cited concern about patient safety as a main barrier to making changes and 15% report that feeling overwhelmed by climate change. 

Question: What do you feel are the main barriers for you in making changes to your practice to make it more sustainable?

What have we done?

Sustainable Paediatrics Logo

One of the ways in which the ‘support for members’ group has responded to this feedback is to create a resources page for members looking for ideas and resources about sustainable practice. There is also a sustainable paediatrics network hosted at the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare for paediatricians to share ideas and resources.

Across the wider working group, there has also been a hive of activity. To pick out a couple of things: our international group published a position statement on the impact of climate change of global child health, which was published ahead of COP26 in November 2021. And our advocating for change workstream have published a toolkit (PDF) to help you approach your local council and MPs about the pressing issue of poor air quality, which we know has direct and lifelong impacts on children’s health. 

It doesn’t stop there, and we are now regularly getting out and about talking about our work at different paediatric events around the country. If you’d like us to come and speak at your event, we’d love to come! Email and we will find someone to come and talk to you.  

What’s next? 

Over the coming months, we are seeking funding to recruit a clinical fellowship post to help develop a green paediatric framework and green paediatrics competition to help members and departments feel supported in working towards more sustainable practice.  

We are also looking at how we can work more closely with the greener NHS team in England, and in similar efforts across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The final question we asked in the survey highlighted that sustainability and climate change are ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ discussed in departmental or trust meetings (74% of responses). With the NHS carbon zero commitment, we hope that there will be increasing discussions within trusts and departments about sustainability and we hope that this will be borne out if repeated in future surveys. 

Finally, we are looking at the College’s education and training offering, and how we can make sure that sustainability is included across our curriculum and in CPD opportunities for all members. 

We are always looking for new members to support the climate change working groups, so if interested please get in touch on