Doctors welcome Health Secretary’s openness on climate change action

The Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK) has welcomed the Health Secretary’s willingness to engage on further climate change action, following his response to a letter on the health impacts of the environmental crisis.

In his reply to DAUK and partners, Mr Barclay acknowledged the health risks posed by climate change and highlighted steps the government is taking to reach net zero emissions and protect nature. 

While stopping short of backing the Climate and Ecology Bill, Mr Barclay confirmed that a formal government response on the proposed legislation will be released shortly. He also invited further contact with his department on its work relating to climate change and health.

Reacting to the letter, DAUK’s Sustainability Lead Dr Matthew Lee said: “We appreciate the Health Secretary taking the time to respond and signalling openness to continued dialogue on this critical issue. Tackling the climate and nature emergency is vital for protecting public health, as we set out in our letter.

“The Secretary of State is right to highlight the action already underway. However, the science tells us more ambition will be needed across government to match the scale of the crisis. So we look forward to reviewing the upcoming government response to the Climate and Ecology Bill and taking up offers to discuss strengthening health systems’ resilience.”

The independent Bill would enshrine binding climate and nature targets in law and require a comprehensive plan to meet them. Medical organisations argue the Bill provides the framework needed to safeguard health from environmental threats. 

Dr Lee added: “We stand ready to work constructively with the Department of Health and Social Care, as Mr Barclay has invited, to ensure health is central to ambitious new policies on climate change and biodiversity loss.”


Notes to editors:

1. The Doctors’ Association UK campaigns on issues affecting the medical profession, and recently teamed up Zero Hour on the issues relating to the Climate and Ecology Bill

2. The Climate and Ecology Bill has cross-party support among MPs and peers.

3. The Health Secretary’s letter can be read in full below.

4. For press enquiries contact Lucy Stratton,

Full letter from Mr Barclay:

29th June 2023  

Dear Colleagues,

Thank you for your letter on 27th April. I fully recognise the impact climate change is having on public health and our environment. I appreciate all the work our health and care system and professionals are doing to protect health, particularly during periods of extreme weather. I assure you that I, along with the UK Government, take this issue very seriously. We continue to highlight the risks posed by climate change to health and address its impact across the UK.

As part of this effort, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has recently established the Centre for Climate and Health Security (CCHS). This centre will lead the UK government’s efforts to protect health in the context of a changing climate. The CCHS is now updating the evidence base on the health impacts of climate change. It is producing a UK-focused report, “Health Effects of Climate Change in the UK,” which will also identify research gaps and recommend actions for policy and practice where required. On 27th April 2023, UKHSA also published the Adverse Weather and Health Plan, which provides health guidance relating to adverse weather events.

Additionally, my department is developing actions for the upcoming third National Adaptation Programme. This will improve climate adaptation in the health system and reduce the impact of extreme weather events. The NHS has also become the world’s first health system to commit to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. The UK Health and Care Act 2022 placed new duties on NHS organisations to consider climate change in their operations, making the NHS the first health system to embed net zero in legislation.

More generally, the government is fully committed to meeting the UK’s ambitious net zero and biodiversity targets. We are reviewing the issues set out within the Climate and Ecology Bill, and a government response will be shared shortly. However, I wanted to highlight some of the UK’s current actions:

– Launching the Powering Up Britain initiative in March 2023 to leverage £100 billion of private investment. This will develop new industries, create innovative low-carbon technologies, and support up to 480,000 jobs by 2030.

– Boosting the existing £640 million Nature for Climate Fund, ensuring a total spend of more than £750 million by 2025 on peat restoration, woodland creation, and management.

– Setting legally binding targets, including halting the decline in species abundance by 2030 and creating more than 500,000 hectares of a range of wildlife-rich habitats outside protected sites by 2042.

– Delivering our carbon budgets, including the sixth carbon budget, which will formally include the UK’s share of international aviation and shipping emissions for the first time. We are also continuing our mission to replace domestic oil and gas industries with cheaper, cleaner, domestic sources of energy.

In light of the above, I don’t think now is an appropriate time for a meeting. I encourage you to review my department’s work on climate change and health and contact us for further questions. For inquiries relating to the UK’s net zero or biodiversity policies, please contact my counterparts in the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero or the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Yours ever,  

Rt Hon Steve Barclay MP