The UK Climate Change Risk Assessment acknowledges that ‘the health and well-being of the UK population will be affected by climate change’, with flooding and heat representing the biggest risks (HM Government, 2017). Addressing risks to health and social care delivery from extreme weather is highlighted as an area where further action is needed in the UK.
Mental health in particular is rising up the agenda. In the wake of the Winter 2013/14 floods, Public Health England (PHE) established a multi-year National Study of Flooding and Health to investigate the medium- and longer-term impact of flooding on health and well-being. Analysis revealed elevated levels of depression, anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder amongst both flooded and disrupted participants, with higher incidences of these disorders amongst those who were displaced from their home and those who did not receive a flood warning (Munro et al., 2017). These effects remained evident two-years on (Jermacane et al., 2018). On the basis of this research, new guidance has been released to better account for the mental health costs of flooding and erosion in economic appraisals for Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management (FCERM) projects and applications for Grant-in-Aid. The appraisal methodology takes into account the costs associated with mental health illnesses, treatment costs and the loss of employment, assuming that these impacts will last on average for 2 years after a flood event.
In addition to embedding mental health into FCERM funding, flood-related health guidance and advice is also available to the public and emergency responders, including mental health advice. Protocols are also in place for establishing a health register following a flood incident to help support those affected and ensure they are offered health support services if needed. Thus, mental health is arguably well established in emergency management arrangements. However, the National Study of Flooding and Health highlights the importance of going beyond the short-term recovery-phase of the emergency management cycle, to ensure that the potentially long-term effects of increased exposure to extreme weather events are adequately supported through health and social care services, as well as wider areas of public policy delivered across government departments.