Heatwaves tax Australia’s healthcare system


As extreme summer temperatures persist across Australia, new research from Griffith University suggests heatwaves are putting significant strain on the country’s ambulance services.

A systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health analysed the link between heatwaves and ambulance callouts nationwide. The findings revealed ambulance calls increase by 10% during heatwave conditions – indicating greater demand for already overwhelmed emergency services.

Heatwaves are silent killers, causing more deaths in Australia than any other natural disaster, said lead author Mehak Oberai, Senior Research Assistant at Griffith’s School of Medicine and Dentistry. “Not only does this lead to increased mortality, but also leads to an increase in morbidity with added pressure on the health care system,”

Specifically, cardiovascular-related callouts rise by 5%. And with more intense, prolonged heat events, callout rates and health risks also intensify.

Co-author Dr Aaron Bach noted these data will impact Australia’s public health system as extreme heat days escalate with climate change. “As these searingly hot days continue across the country, we’ll see a further rise in the likelihood of ambulance callouts which will shine a spotlight on the real burden that heat waves place on our already stressed health system,” he remarked.

The findings reinforce an urgent need for proactive heat health awareness and resilience initiatives, researchers emphasised. This includes campaigns targeted to individuals, communities and healthcare providers.

Co-author Dr Shannon Rutherford leads one such preemptive project at Griffith called ETHOS. This early heat warning system helps elderly Queenslanders monitor dangerous home heat exposure and access preventative cooling resources.

“This new study feeds into the work Ethos has underway which aims to provide in-home solutions to allow older people and their caregivers to monitor heat exposure, identify heat risks in their home, and respond to those risks using accessible cooling strategies,” Dr Rutherford explained.

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