What has sustainability got to do with transformation?

We are one year on from our ambitious and landmark report, Delivering a Net Zero NHS. As COP26 begins in Glasgow, it seems a pertinent time to reflect on our actions to reach net zero carbon emissions and how we can all work together to achieve the ambitious targets set out.

Climate change presents a profound and growing threat to people’s health. Taking action to reduce harmful carbon emissions will save lives and improve health, now and for future generations

Did you know that from 2030 the NHS will no longer purchase from suppliers that do not meet or exceed our commitment to net zero? Or that research and innovation funding must now consider sustainability in all applications?

Here are just a few of the steps we have taken over the last year to move towards net zero:

  • Release of “How to produce a Green Plan” – supporting trusts to produce their own net zero roadmaps.
  • Building a thriving Greener NHS community – allowing collaboration, and sharing of case studies.
  • Launching the SBRI ‘delivering a net-zero NHS’ competition which allocates funding for innovative solutions that will help us to reduce carbon emissions in areas such as surgical pathways and decision making.
  • Development of net zero ambulances.
  • Support for clinicians and patients to improve clinical outcomes through considering low carbon inhaler options via the Impact and Investment Fund.
  • Investment in renewable energy and LED lighting.
  • Development of a sustainable procurement forum and steps taken to support suppliers to align with our net zero ambitions.
  • Sustainability embedded into the What Good Looks Like blueprint for digital transformation from NHSX.
  • Formation of the Chief Sustainability Officer’s Clinical Fellow Scheme which has seen 7 fellows from varied clinical backgrounds join the greener NHS team and directorates throughout NHSEI to embed carbon reduction principles across the system.

Transformation is taking place at a rapid rate in the NHS, particularly over the last 18 months. Transformation of services often results in significant carbon benefits as well as those in patient safety, cost and access to care. Consider the carbon saved in the move to virtual outpatient appointments or the road miles saved by care provided closer to home. To take just 2 examples:

  • The introduction of e-bikes in Oxford has halved the delivery time of cancer treatments, whilst reducing local air pollution, presenting a patient and carbon benefit.
  • The use of equally safe but lower carbon alternatives in anaesthetics has resulted in a carbon saving equivalent to 105,000 miles in the average passenger vehicle per month at University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust.

One year on from committing to our net zero target, the NHS is on track to reduce its emissions – that’s equivalent to powering 1.1 million homes with electricity for a year.

We’re making great progress, thanks to the support of more than 1.3 million NHS people, our partners and suppliers. Together, we can achieve even more.

Consider what you’re already doing – could there be a carbon benefit to those changes? Do you have any case studies that could demonstrate this? We would love to hear about them.

If you’d like to know more or want to join the Greener NHS community sign-up today to be part of the change and improve health now and for future generations.

Dr Becki Taylor-Smith

Dr Becki Taylor-Smith has joined the Chief Sustainability Officers’ Clinical Fellow scheme for 2021-2. She is a medical doctor, specialising in anaesthesia. She has an interest in empowering clinicians to make change and engage their policy makers. She founded and continues to chair the Green Anaesthesia and Intensive Care Network in the West Midlands (GAIN-WM).

Becki will be working with the Greener NHS team and transformation directorate to support integrating net zero carbon principles into transformation of care and helping the NHS to reach its ambitious net zero target.