Greener NHS and School for Change Agents join forces to create change in health and care

“Every day brings new challenges, but today a global community for change brings new hope.”

Meet Bethany. A midwife in Newcastle who supported the delivery of the first “climate-friendly” baby. Or Arun, an anaesthetist in London who piloted a project with co-worker Rachael that safely and quickly eliminated the use of harmful gas, desflurane. Or Raouf. A catering manager from Surrey Heartlands integrated care system, who is driving down food waste and inspiring others to join in.

They come from all walks of life. All parts of the country. But they all have something in common: they want to create change in health and care for the benefit of people and the planet. And I know there are many more people who want to do the same.

That’s why I’m excited to announce the start of a partnership with School for Change Agents from NHS Horizons. At the time of writing, a global community of 12,000 people working in health and care have completed this massive open online course – the biggest of its kind in the NHS. It’s free and open to anyone – and you still have time to sign up.

This latest School for Change Agents launches in line with the start of the 27 United Nations Conference of the Parties, also known as COP27 – the biggest climate action summit in the world. This time, it will have a greener twist. Throughout the school, change agents will gain valuable skills to help make a difference while hearing more about how the NHS is becoming greener from those driving change already.

The NHS became the world’s first health service to commit to a target of net zero emissions. This ambition matters more than ever. Last month, the 2022 Lancet Countdown report on Health and Climate Change reaffirmed that climate change is exacerbating food insecurity, health impacts from extreme heat, the risk of infectious disease outbreaks, and life-threatening extreme weather events. Almost 100 leading experts and authors of the report concluded that through the introduction of more resilient energy systems, there is a global opportunity to save at least 1.2 million lives from cleaner air and 11.5 million lives from healthier diets, while reducing energy poverty, and delivering healthier, more liveable cities.

With both a challenge and opportunity so great, knowing where to start can feel daunting. But action can take on many faces – and every face can make a difference.

We know that 9 in 10 NHS staff support a greener NHS, with just shy of that number already making changes in their professional roles, such as reducing energy use, recycling or reusing items where possible, or taking greener routes to work. Our 2022 Healthier Futures Action Fund received hundreds of small scale, big impact idea submissions from individuals and teams across the NHS – from greener social prescribing, to food waste reduction pilots and clinical tools and resources. We’ve backed 70 of the best projects, which will deliver benefits for patients as well as the planet.

At the organisation level, efforts are well established. Every single NHS organisation, including trusts and integrated care systems, has a green plan in place. Collectively – the actions bursting out of these plans will reduce emissions equivalent to taking more than half a million cars off the road over the next three years. Actions like the installation of renewable energy, reductions in harmful gases, transformation of clinical care, and the electrification of NHS fleets.

And our partners are pushing us to go further. The National Institute of Health and Care Research, the Medical Research Council and Wellcome have invested around £35 million in sustainable healthcare research and development, laying the foundations for faster progress in years to come.

As world leaders wake up in Egypt for COP27, here in the UK the world’s most environmentally ambitious health service begins another shift.

Every day brings new challenges, but today a global community for change brings new hope.

Find out more and sign-up to School for Change Agents today.

Dr Nick Watts

Dr Nick Watts is the Chief Sustainability Officer of the NHS, responsible for its commitment to deliver a world-class net zero emission health service. Based in London, he leads the Greener NHS team across the country, which focuses on improving the health of patients and the public through a robust and accelerated response to climate change and the broader sustainability agenda.

Nick is a medical doctor licensed in Australia and the UK, and has trained population health and public policy. He is a Member by Distinction of the Royal College of Physicians’ Faculty of Public Health, and an Honorary Associate Professor of University College London’s Institute for Global Health.

Prior to the National Health Service, Nick worked internationally as the Executive Director of the Lancet Countdown and the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change, a collaboration of UN agencies and academic centres across the world. He has also focused on engaging the health profession on the links between public health and climate change, having founded both the Global Climate and Health Alliance and the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change.