English Español

"We have to be braver": An interview with Dr Robin Stott

Dr Robin Stott is a retired consultant physician at Lewisham Hospital. He was previously the medical director of Lewisham Hospital and the dean of the university hospital. He helped start the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change.

“Health providers play a crucial role in the climate movement”, he tells us. “But we have to be braver than we currently are. We have to be categoric in understanding that the forces against us – the corporates and others – need to be confronted. Hospitals are very important but they are only one component of health. When health professionals talk about health, we are talking about wider issues.”

We spoke to Robin about what other doctors can do to tackle the climate and ecological emergency...

The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change

The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change brings together health professionals to advocate for just responses to the climate and ecological crisis. It advocates on behalf of a huge number of institutions – including Royal Colleges, professional bodies, and the specialist press – which between them represent nearly one million members.

“I and many other doctors have been writing about this since the late 1980s, pointing out that ecological devastation is going to be catastrophic for health. It soon became clear that writing in journals was insufficient, so I and other colleagues formed the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change.”

The alliance was founded in 2016, in order to advocate for better responses to climate change, empower health professionals to take action, and to raise awareness of the issues.

“I thought it would be simple, but it took nearly ten years for us to bring on other members of the health professions. It took the convening power of King Charles to bring together the presidents of the colleges. From that meeting, we formed the alliance. It is now a vigorous, viable and effective organisation and colleagues can support and amplify it.”

Peaceful direct action

In his personal capacity, Robin also urges healthcare providers to consider getting involved in non-violent civil disobedience, to put pressure on governments to enact meaningful change. “Having senior doctors involved is crucial and it is important that we persuade our colleagues to get involved. I think that Extinction Rebellion has been an interesting experience for many of us. The sustained pressure of civil disobedience is very important.”

Robin recognises that direct action may be difficult for some healthcare providers. “There is an interesting debate to be had about how healthcare providers can best support direct action groups. It is quite a difficult balance for people in formal positions, but a lot of other people could and should be involved. I am persuaded that they are an important element of the movement.”

A final thought…

Robin says that it is now the time for health providers to be brave. “Being active on these issues is not going to impede your career, it hasn’t impeded mine,” he says. “In fact, it will almost certainly enhance your career, not harm it. Many of my colleagues who had different views still respected what I did. So, keep going. Promote good health and be brave in doing it.”