“The first time that the health scrutiny committee looks at climate change – but certainly not the last” – Health Scrutiny February 2022

As Team SF’s health reporter, I’m quite out of my depth here. I’ve never had much climate content to unpick in these monthly blogs, as the health scrutiny has never spoken about climate change before. This month, though, the committee brought an item on climate change and health, and threw the door open to incorporate more climate discussions into the workplan going forwards.

Hopefully, this isn’t news to you – we first reported that a climate change and health item was on the workplan in October. We then picked up the themes of the council’s ‘trailed’ report in our January scrutiny roundup, prepared an extensive report of our own which we launched last week, ran an entire week of guest blogs from health and climate change workers and activists, and hosted an event highlighting the voices and experiences from Manchester and beyond to inform the discussion (watch it back here). We’ve been busy and we’ll be keeping busy on this going forwards.

There’s a lot to be positive about from this scrutiny meeting. Of course I’m frustrated that we’re only on the introduction to climate change and health, when it should be totally integrated into the council’s health and social care systems by now. But there’s a good win here that deserves celebrating. Every time the wheel of climate action gets stuck in a rut, it takes a good shove to get it going again. I’m hopeful this meeting is enough to get that wheel turning.

Summary

Before the climate change and health item got going, we had the COVID update, a report on the adult social care and population health budget, and an item on the new Integrated Care Board (ICB) featuring the chair designate Richard Leese. In the ICB piece, Cllr Suzanne Richards (Longsight) asked about climate change, asking about the state of the infrastructure and systems for the ICB to respond to climate change, with responses focussing on the need to reduce carbon and giving examples like Stepping Hill hospital, which has lots of bolted on corridors which don’t work from a productivity or a carbon perspective. According to Leese it seems the ICB believes hospitals like that must be totally rebuilt rather than retrofitted to work.

We then got into the climate change item. Cllr Joanne Green (Chair, Harpurhey) highlighted a strong health equity focus to this item, looking to link it into Marmot beacon indicators to properly integrate climate change into health and social care KPIs. The day before, the Health and Wellbeing Climate Change Advisory Group met for the first time, which will be informing and collating data for input into both the Climate Change Agency and the Health and Wellbeing advisory group. Director of Public Health David Regan promised to bring information and data from that meeting into the Health Scrutiny in future, and later said he was open to hearing how to be more open about health and climate data and how to communicate it. We’ll certainly be checking this happens!

Air pollution was by far the biggest issue picked up, with Cllrs Mary Monaghan (Northenden), Eddy Newman (Woodhouse Park), Leech and Richards all asking searching questions on air pollution. Cllr Monaghan also mentioned our event as useful for understanding the connections between air pollution and health (great news!).

Areas for further work and policy improvements were coming thick and fast, including increasing measures to reduce air pollution whilst the clean air zone stalls. One suggestion was to roll out the implementation of school streets more evenly across Manchester so that they aren’t reliant on needing parents with the time and energy to implement them themselves.

The Executive Member for the Environment, Cllr Tracey Rawlins, put forwards that the health scrutiny committee should have a deep dive item on climate issues on a quarterly basis. This was agreed, with councillors putting forward issues like food, air pollution and NHS estates as some of the issues that need to be examined in depth. Cllr Joanna Midgeley, the executive for health, added that we need to be really emphatic about the connection between climate change and health going forwards. With that and some final comments on how to integrate climate change into the workplan going forwards, the meeting was brought to a close.

What next? In the short term, ‘social prescribing’ which Health Scrutiny committee will discuss next month. As Manchester has recently received central Government funds for both active and green social prescribing pilots, the overlaps with climate change are clear. More broadly though,’ what next’ is about making sure that the promises made (by the Director of Public Health, by the Executive for the Environment) are followed through. What next means making sure that the Chair’s comment – and the title of this blog – is not mere soundbite. We already have those in spades.

We  left the meeting convinced that this will not be the last time that health scrutiny committee looks at climate change. But will this be progress in fits and starts, climate change appearing back on the agenda after sustained external pressure? Or will each discussion build on the last? Will there be clear next steps, and a wider range of voices, to tackle the impacts of climate change on health in every respect?

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