A furore has erupted within the Royal Australasian College of Physicians over how it investigates the effects of climate change on public health, amid claims of management incompetence within the peak doctors’ body.
There are concerns from within the policy and advocacy unit at the RACP over the way the body has been run, including the mishandling of communications with the media.
The fallout comes as Dr Tony Capon, chair of the climate change working group at the RACP, resigned from his post this morning, claiming the group’s work was being ignored. The study group has been assigned by the Faculty of Public Health at the RACP to investigate the effects on health of global warming and improve physician’s awareness of the issue.
In his resignation email to president John Kolbe, Capon wrote that he thought the efforts of the members of the working group — “all fellows concerned about the health impacts of climate change, and many with considerable expertise” — were not being valued by RACP management.
Capon’s resignation comes a fortnight after Kolbe appeared in the media under headlines suggesting a proposed carbon tax might be detrimental to public health, because people on tight budgets might reduce health spending.
Kolbe also appeared on ABC Radio’s Life Matters to discuss the matter, which came after the RACP issued a media release urging the government to consider the health implications in taking action to address climate change.
Crikey understands the message contradicts the findings of the climate change working group, which has been at pains to recommend immediate action against climate change.
Emails sent within the group, seen by Crikey, suggest there were concerns with how RACP management had bungled the carbon tax message in the media release and subsequent interviews. Furthermore, it’s understood a draft copy of a media release was sent by the working group to management, only for it to be altered before publication.
“I don’t think this is how the college should be represented in the media on this issue,” said one respondent to the email chain. Said another: “I think the take away message for most people would be that the carbon tax is a negative as it impacts on people’s health.”
RACP Professional Affairs and Advocacy Director Sasha Grebe rejects any claims the college has mishandled the carbon tax issue, telling Crikey he thought it had been a “win” for management. He says the president’s comment had provoked discussion and further the advocacy of climate action.
“Rather than incompetence, I think the issue has been well managed and has been highly successful for the college,” he said. “The college has a highly experienced and capable team within the policy and advocacy unit and the communications unit.”
Grebe says the RACP will continue to work with the government on identifying the effects of a carbon tax on public health, while advocating for patients as climate change policy is developed.
Note: an original version of this article said a media release had been “approved” by the climate change working group before being sent out. Only the President of the RACP has the authority to approve a media release.