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Measuring the environmental cost of health-related travel from rural and remote Australia

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To the Editor: The environmental impact of Australia’s health system needs to be assessed. Estimates from the United Kingdom indicate that travel is responsible for 13% of health care-related carbon emissions, with patient travel contributing 6%.1 Australia’s total emissions for the year to September 2012 were estimated to be 24.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent gas (tCO2e) per capita, with 16% of all emissions being transport-related.2 In a recent study, we sought to estimate the carbon cost associated with health-related travel from rural and remote Australia.

We conducted a population survey of residents of King Island, located in Bass Strait between Victoria and Tasmania. Of the island’s 1553 residents, 625 (40%) responded. Participants reported 511 health care travel events for a 12-month period in 2011–2012, spending 2298 nights away from the island. Excluding escorts and family members who accompanied the patients, their travel to health services generated emissions of 130.87 tCO2e (0.22 tCO2e per capita per year). In terms of carbon offsets, these emissions represent growing 20 trees for 30 years.3