Greener NHS campaign to tackle climate ‘health emergency’

Staff to lead climate change response

NHS Chief Sir Simon Stevens has today (Saturday) announced that the NHS and its staff will step up action to tackle the climate “health emergency” this year, helping prevent illness, reducing pressure on A&Es, and saving tens of thousands of lives.

The initiative follows the launch of the Climate Assembly UK this week, which is discussing how the country can best get to ‘net zero’.

Health chief Sir Simon Stevens has today announced three steps the NHS will take during 2020 to tackle this problem.

First, NHS England is establishing an expert panel to chart a practical route map this year to enable the NHS to get to ‘net zero’, becoming the world’s first major health service to do so.

Dr Nick Watts, of University College London, will chair the NHS Net Zero Expert Panel. He is a medical doctor and executive director of Lancet Countdown, the independent international expert group that tracks the links between climate change and health. The NHS in England is the only health-care system in the world that is routinely reporting on greenhouse gas emissions. The Expert Panel will look at changes the NHS can make in its own activities; in its supply chain; and through wider partnerships – thereby also contributing to the government’s overall target for the UK.

These include the Long-Term Plan commitment to better use technology to make up to 30 million outpatient appointments redundant, sparing patients thousands of unnecessary trips to and from hospital. It is estimated that 6.7 billion road miles each year are from patients and their visitors travelling to the NHS.

It will also look at changes that can be made in the NHS’s medical devices, consumables and pharmaceutical supply, and areas the NHS can influence such as the energy sector as the health service moves to using more renewable energy.

The Panel will submit an interim report to NHS England in the summer with the final report expected in the Autumn, ahead of the COP26 International Meeting in Glasgow.

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “With almost 700 people dying from potentially avoidable deaths due to air pollution every week we are facing a health emergency as well as a climate emergency.

“Patients and the public rightly want the NHS to deliver for them today, and to help safeguard the future health of our children and grandchildren.

“While the NHS is already a world leader in sustainability, as the biggest employer in this country comprising nearly a tenth of the UK economy, we’re both part of the problem and part of the solution.

“Indeed, if health services across the world were their own country, they’d be the fifth-largest emitter on the planet.

“That’s why today we are mobilising our 1.3million staff to take action for a greener NHS, and it’s why we’ll be working with the world’s leading experts to help set a practical, evidence-based and ambitious date for the NHS to reach net zero.”

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Involving staff is crucial if the NHS is to help the UK meet its emissions targets in good time. They know more than anyone how the health service ticks and so are best placed to make practical green suggestions to get the NHS to where it needs to be.

“But the implications for the NHS building stock are huge. Everyone must now work together to understand how environment-harming heating and lighting systems can be replaced without redirecting funds from patient care.”

The NHS will be taking immediate action in 2020, with a proposed new NHS Standard Contract calling on hospitals to reduce carbon from buildings and estates, whilst switching to less polluting anaesthetic gases, better asthma inhalers, and encouraging more active travel for staff.

The health service will also now launch its own grassroots campaign ‘For a Greener NHS’ to encourage staff and hospitals to cut their impact on people’s health and the environment.

The ‘For A Greener NHS’ campaign will be supported by the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change – which includes representative bodies covering over 650,000 NHS staff – to build on the work already underway to help trusts and staff to cut emissions, energy use and waste, including phasing out oil and coal boilers and increase use of LED lighting and electric vehicles.

Staff and local NHS organisations are being encouraged to feed in ideas to the Expert Panel, and evidence of steps they may have already taken within their own hospital. A new website will help local NHS bodies to share ideas and ramp up initiatives that are already working across the health service.

Collectively the NHS’ 1.3million staff could make a huge impact on the campaign. For example, each person switching to refillable water bottles instead of plastic bottles could save 65kgCO2 per year. One London trust showed that just by turning off printers, computers and other equipment overnight and managing heat loss each staff member was able to reduce CO2 emissions by an average of 70kg a year.

Notes to editors

– Case Studies:

  • Newcastle Upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust was the first NHS Trust to declare a climate emergency. One hundred trees have been planted at Freeman Hospital, made up of a variety of species and a green spaces group has been set up to create a wellbeing garden with a dedicated dementia friendly section.

Plastic-light wards: with reusable ceramic cups, plates and metal        cutlery and staff are encouraged to have single use plastic free            lunches.

  • Great Ormond Street Hospital ran a ‘Gloves off’ campaign to reduce the unnecessary use of non-sterile plastic gloves across the Trust. In the first year of the programme: they saved £90,000 and cut the use of non-sterile plastic gloves by 3.7m. Staff reported fewer cases of skin issues and contact dermatitis
  • Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust has been encouraging staff to change how they travel to work. The campus provides: subsidised hybrid bus shuttle services, and a car club. Events including cyclists breakfasts (in partnership with local universities), cycle maintenance sessions, seasonal cycling events and public transport days.