National ambition

The UK was the first major economy in the world to pass a law to end its contribution to climate change. This means that the UK will aim to balance any emissions generated through emission cutting or removal efforts – so called ‘Net Zero’.

Given the importance of the NHS in our national life, how quickly the NHS can advance to Net Zero will affect how quickly the country as a whole succeeds. The health and care system in England is responsible for an estimated 4-5% of the country’s carbon footprint. That is why we are committed to reaching Net Zero.

The causes of climate change and air pollution are often the same, so the ‘For a greener NHS’ campaign will help address both. Air pollution is linked to killer conditions like heart disease, stroke and lung cancer, contributing to around 36,000 deaths annually.

A recent study by Kings College London looking at nine English cities demonstrated that on high pollution days there are 673 additional out-of-hospital cardiac arrests and hospital admissions for stroke and asthma, with spikes in ambulance 999 call outs.

Last month a group of 175 doctors warned that air pollution is directly adding to current pressures in accident and emergency departments.

The changing climate is leading to more frequent heatwaves and extreme weather events such as flooding, including the potential spread of infectious diseases to the UK. Almost 900 people were killed by last summer’s heatwaves while nearly 18 million patients go to a GP practice in an area that exceeds the World Health Organisation’s air pollution limit.

Scientists believe perhaps a third of new asthma cases might be avoided by cutting emissions while Lyme Disease and encephalitis are among conditions expected to become more common as temperatures rise.

The NHS is currently the only major health system in the world to tackle climate change as a whole and the success of ‘For a greener NHS’ will require the support of NHS staff across the country.

The aim of ‘For a greener NHS’ has widespread support with studies showing more than nine in 10 NHS staff and members of the public expect us to operate in a sustainable manner. Our ‘For a greener NHS’ campaign has wide support. We have therefore assembled an expert panel to support this transition and work with us to determine the quickest feasible path to get the NHS to net zero.

It is a challenging task, but a vital one. The NHS is the country’s largest employer and cares for 1.5 million patients a day.

In England, the carbon footprint of the NHS was estimated to account for 4-5% of the country’s climate emissions and transporting NHS products and services accounts for more than half of our carbon footprint.

However, the NHS has already made considerable progress on climate change, with carbon emissions being reduced by 18% in the decade since 2007 at the same time as the NHS has significantly expanded the number of patients treated. This is equivalent to cutting annual emissions equal to those of a country the size of Mauritius or Cyprus (15).  In addition, 85% of NHS provider waste is avoiding going directly to landfill and 23% of waste was recycled in 2017. The NHS water footprint was reduced by more than one fifth (21%) between 2010 and 2017.

Building on these achievements and momentum, we have set new goals to reduce our environmental impact, which also align with the NHS Long Term Plan.