Greener Allied Health Professions: Delivering high quality, low carbon care in the right place at the right time, with the right skills

As we celebrate the sixth Allied Health Professions (AHP) Day on the 14 October 2023 with the theme in England of ‘The AHP Community and AHPs: Right place, at the right time, with the right skills’ it’s an opportune moment to reflect on the invaluable contributions of AHPs in shaping a greener and more sustainable NHS. At NHS England, we recognise the pivotal role AHPs play in driving positive change, and we are thrilled to share the progress made on the journey towards a sustainable healthcare system and inspire even more AHPs to get involved.

Contributing around 4% of England’s emissions, the NHS is both a part of the problem and the solution when it comes to climate change. In October 2020 the NHS became the world’s first health system to commit to reaching net zero emissions. This commitment was enshrined in The Health and Care Act 2022 which placed a duty on all NHS organisations to consider climate change in their operations. As the third largest clinical workforce in the NHS AHPs have played a vital role in paving our road to net zero, and I wanted to share with you some of the amazing progress we have made together.

As a chartered physiotherapist and proud AHP, I think it’s vital to highlight the leadership role played by AHPs, in championing initiatives to improve care, save money and reduce carbon emissions. Let’s explore some inspiring case studies that exemplify the commitment of AHPs to building a greener NHS.

Right care, right place, right time: North East London NHS Foundation Trust

The challenges facing the Speech and Language Therapy department at North East London NHS Foundation Trust during the pandemic required innovative solutions to ensure patients could continue to receive high quality care. Shifting from hospital-based clinics to laryngectomy rehabilitation home visits not only significantly reduced waiting times and improved patient outcomes but also unexpectedly benefited the environment by cutting travel miles. The positive impact on both patients and the local community underscores the importance of patient-centred care and highlights the potential for similar models in other healthcare services to enhance both efficiency and sustainability.

Reducing the environmental impact of equipment, medicines, and resources: Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

The Home Enteral Feeding Team (HEFT) at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust provide dietetic and nursing care to approximately 500 patients who are enterally fed. The practice uses a lot of different products, many of which are single use. The team aimed to assess the environmental, financial, social, and clinical impacts of replacing single-use bottles with reusable ones and extending giving set usage. The results show impressive projected savings of 24,722 kgCO2e annually if this project was rolled out across the Trust, along with positive clinical and social outcomes. The team’s efforts enhance sustainability without compromising patient care.

Patient Empowerment: Great Ormond Street

Introducing period pants to young people at Great Ormond Street Hospital has transformed menstrual management, offering independence to those with disabilities and reducing the environmental impact of traditional products. Patients report increased happiness and control, with 97% expressing a willingness to use them again. The initiative not only tackles period poverty but also promotes sustainable practices, fostering positive changes in behaviour and understanding. The overwhelmingly positive feedback from patients and carers highlights the project’s profound impact on independence and well-being, while reducing waste.

Low carbon models of care: South Warwickshire University Foundation Trust

South Warwickshire University NHS Foundation Trust initiated the Green Team Competition in collaboration with the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare in which Six teams were selected to engage in in sustainability in quality improvement projects. As part of the competition the physiotherapy teams undertook a project to engage care home residents in home exercise programmes that target strength and balance training to improve static and dynamic sitting and standing balance to minimize the risks of falls – with the aim of reducing referrals from care homes by 35 percent. If successful over the next year the team anticipate a saving of 1,175 kgCO2e per year (equivalent to driving 3,470 miles in an average car) and a financial saving of over £66,000 per year. In addition, the physiotherapy team would save 57.6 hours, or 7.7 days of staff time per month.

Our commitment to sustainability is underscored by the Greener AHP Hub, where you will find many more case studies of the amazing work of AHPs. The hub is designed to empower AHPs with resources, information, and tools to integrate environmentally conscious practices into their daily work. This hub serves as a central repository for AHPs keen on making a difference in the environmental impact of healthcare delivery. From reducing waste to optimizing energy use, the hub is a catalyst for positive change. I am sure you will agree that the commitment from Chief Allied Health Professions Office to this agenda is clear to see.

Outside of the NHS our partners are supporting AHPs in this area. The Council of Deans of Health have worked with their stakeholders and expert AHPs to develop new curricula guidance to support the incorporation of education for sustainable healthcare within curricula, and in reviewing and developing academic programmes for AHPs. To be published in late 2023 this guidance will ensure that graduates have the knowledge and skills to include net zero as a fundamental design principle in models of care, enabling them to deliver the core purpose of our health and care systems – improve health and care now and for future generations.

And just last month, the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) published a sustainability statement, setting out its commitments to becoming an environmentally sustainable regulator and the actions it plans to take in support of these commitments.

On this Allied Health Professional Day, let’s celebrate the dedication and innovation of AHPs in championing sustainability within the NHS and beyond. These examples serve as just a small testament to our massive collective commitment to building a healthcare system that not only cares for patients but also cares for the planet. As we continue to learn from inspiring case studies and collaborate on sustainable initiatives, we pave the way for a greener and healthier NHS for our patients, staff, and communities.

See more case studies from the Greener AHP Hub

Jessie Frost

Jessie is a chartered physiotherapist and has worked in paediatrics since 2008. She worked at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust for six years, most recently as a team lead in the Evelina London community physiotherapy team, working with children from 0-19 years with neurodevelopmental difficulties. Jessie co-leads the Physiotherapy and AHP sustainability networks on the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare and is currently a Chief Sustainability Officers Clinical Fellow at NHS England.