Innovation and collaboration super-charge delivery of a net zero NHS

A circular economy for surgical textiles. Reducing travel emissions through smarter, faster, greener care. Technology that reduces emissions from pain relief 300 times more environmentally harmful than carbon dioxide.

These are just some of the award-winning innovations that the NHS will invest in through a new £1 million Net Zero SBRI Healthcare competition. Launched last year, in partnership with the Greener NHS, AHSN Network and Accelerated Access Collaborative, the Net Zero SBRI Healthcare competition sought innovative products or clinical pathways that would deliver benefits to patients, whilst reducing carbon emissions.

The SBRI Healthcare competition also funds similar competitions in stroke, cancer, mental health and more, helping to develop technologies and solutions that address some of the biggest healthcare challenges facing society.

The climate crisis is a health emergency. In the UK, air pollution accounts for 1 in 20 deaths with harmful emissions causing increased cases of asthma, cancer and heart disease. That’s why the NHS became the world’s first health service to commit to a target of net zero emissions; 2040 for the emissions it controls and 2045 for those it can influence.

But decarbonising a health and care system is complex; it requires new ways of working and thinking. This is precisely what the SBRI awards nurture, helping to find innovative solutions to questions such as: how do you improve health and care while reducing emissions from patient transportation, delivery of vital medical supplies or surgical pathways?

A total of 46 submissions were received in response to the Net Zero SBRI healthcare competition. Ten winning solutions were selected, each demonstrating the potential to super-charge progress towards a greener NHS.

One business, Open Medical, has developed “Pathpoint SurgiCare”, a cloud-based workflow solution that collects and shares important patient information before and after a planned operation, reducing the need for the patient to come into hospital. Overall, NHS travel accounts for around a tenth of the NHS carbon footprint. This innovation has been supported by the Eastern Academic Health and Science Network (AHSN).

Another, Revolution-ZERO, is developing an effective, sustainable solution to replace the disposable PPE, drapes and other textiles that are currently used during the approximately 11,500,000 surgical procedures across the UK. This solution is being developed in collaboration with the West of England AHSN, Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust, and Barts Health NHS Trust.

The full list of competition winners can be found on the SBRI website.

Programmes such as the Net Zero SBRI healthcare competition provide a great way to fast-track the level of collaboration between the NHS and industry required to meet the scale of the challenge. But there is more that can be done.

The good news is that in the last year we’ve seen interest grow around research and innovation in net zero health and care. At the UN Global Climate Change Summit, COP26, a new £20million National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) call on climate change and health was announced, including funds to support the delivery of net zero health and social care system. This remains open until mid-May. A Medical Research Council (MRC) funding opportunity for research that improves the understanding of environmental sustainability in life sciences and medical practice opened at the start of this year.

It is thanks to the pioneering work of NHS staff, partners, and suppliers, that our health service is making progress towards its net zero target. But delivering a greener NHS will require the support of even more businesses, including those from industries not traditionally associated with health and care, where advancements in sustainable technology and processes offer huge potential for cross-sector application.

It’s time to throw down the gauntlet to the NHS, its partners and industry at large. The opportunity to improve health of people and planet, now and for the future, is too great to ignore.

If you have an idea and are looking for support to help realise its potential, guidance is on hand. To find out more about innovation happening across the NHS and to share your ideas, the Academic Health and Science Network (AHSN) is a great place to start: You can also contact the NHS England Innovation team directly, here:

Professor Tony Young

Tony is a practicing frontline NHS surgeon, Associate Medical Director at the Mid and South Essex University Hospitals Group, Director of Medical Innovation at Anglia Ruskin University, and has founded 4 Med-Tech start-ups. He has also co-founded the £500 million Anglia Ruskin MedTech Campus.

In 2014 he was appointed as National Clinical Director for Innovation at NHS England and in February 2016 became the first National Clinical Lead for Innovation. In this role he provides clinical leadership and support in delivering improved health outcomes in England and drives the uptake of proven innovations across the NHS, promotes economic growth through innovation and helps make the NHS the go to place on the planet for medical innovation. In 2015 he founded the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur programme. This has become the world’s largest entrepreneurial workforce development programme for clinicians and under the NHS Long Term Plan is set for a major expansion to include intrapreneurs.

In the 2019 New Year’s Honours list Tony was awarded the OBE for services to clinical leadership.