Planetary Health Report Cards

Rachel Baker
Rachel Baker • 25 October 2023

The need for Planetary Health Report Cards to embed the principles of ecological sustainability and planetary health in professional healthcare training.

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Rachel Baker
Rachel Baker

Rachel Baker, SLT Student. 25 October, 2023

Here are some brief notes on the regular Greener AHP Networking event that took place Wednesday, 18 October 2023, hosted by AHP Susnet and Occupational Therapy Susnet. I attended as a member of SLTsusnet and as a 3rd Year student of Speech and Language Therapy because I strongly agree with the proposition that the climate emergency is a health emergency.

The online event focussed on the Planetary Health Report Card initiative, with a presentation on this from Ka Yan Hess, Senior Lecturer in Occupational Therapy at Oxford Brookes, (…) followed by whole group and breakout discussions. 10 of us attended the event (including an OT logged in from Ghana, and James Lee, the regional lead for PHRC in the UK)
More details of the PHRC can be found here, but here's my quick outline from Ka Yan's presentation:-
The PHRC began in 2019 to enable healthcare students, with faculty support, to produce an annual report assessing their respective institutions on their progress in environmental responsibility and sustainability for planetary health. It is a “metric-based, student-driven initiative to inspire... sustainable healthcare education in professional healthcare training programmes around the world.”

I'm particularly animated by the foregrounding of environmentalism in healthcare as a core competency, and the push to think through ways to mitigate the effects of clinical practice on the environment. It is something that SLT students and faculty need encouragement, support and guidance in.

So how to produce a report card? A student-led group designs the questionnaire. It should be a simple document for students to pick up and fill out, identifying what is good about the institution's practices, or what needs improvement, and is implemented on an annual cycle to measure improvements. It is published annually on Earth Day, 22nd April. (There were questions about inter-departmental scope which I didn't get to clarify.)

So far, report cards have been published representing schools of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy and Physiotherapy. Currently, there is no OT or SLT report card available, but the OT Susnet group are working on a draft.

The five areas that the PHRC should cover include:-

1) Curriculum – how are planetary health considerations, such as ecological destruction and mitigations in clinical practice, integrated into the curriculum?
2) Interdisciplinary research investigations into planetary ecological healthcare – how well does your institution support these?
3) Community outreach and advocacy – how well does your institution partner with local communities?
4) Support for student-led initiatives – how well does your institution support students to engage with planetary healthcare issues?
5) Campus sustainability – what is the built environment like, what are the institution's investment policies and priorities?

I had a question as to what extent the Royal Colleges and other healthcare regulatory bodies, (HCPC, the Council of Deans of Health, etc...) were interacting with the PHRC initiative, as it is they who ultimately have the biggest influence on curriculum and syllabi in healthcare training.
James Lee responded that the report card in medicine was having more and more of an impact on faculty each year. He highlighted the fact that producing a PHRC is a collaborative process that engages faculty. Also, the ranking system is a useful tool. Environmental and sustainability metrics have become important to prospective students in schools of medicine. Brighton and Sussex medical school currently sets the standard.

James Lee mentioned that the Planetary Health Alliance, the UK Health Alliance, the General Medical Council are all alive to the issue and that accrediting bodies do need to take it seriously.

At the end of the session I mentioned that the SLT undergraduate curriculum is so dense, which may account for a lack of engagement on ecological issues (e.g the ethics component does not appear to include questions about ecological sustainability or climate change). As a senior OT lecturer, Ka Yen pointed out that sustainable healthcare should not be seen as an add-on, but rather must and can be systemically embedded as part of the teaching approach in all programme modules. This is certainly desirable but to adopt this systemic approach, teaching faculty need persuasion and support from below (i.e the students) as well as above from the regulatory bodies.

I do hope that the SLT Susnet can draw students from SLT programmes globally to start working on this PHRC initiative.

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