Meeting the ‘For a greener NHS’ challenge of achieving Net Zero will require the support of all the 1.3 million employees working in the NHS. Support for NHS staff, and for local sustainability and environmental professionals, comes from a wide coalition of national groups:
Academy of Medical Royal Colleges
Professor Carrie MacEwen, Chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges said: “We know our own health and the health of our planet are inextricably linked, so it’s great that the NHS is taking this lead and it’s certainly something everyone who works in the NHS or uses it should get fully behind.”
Royal College of Physicians President
Professor Andrew Goddard, Royal College of Physicians President, said: “The climate emergency is a health emergency, with doctors and other clinicians already seeing the impacts associated with air pollution, rising temperatures and extreme weather events on the patients they treat. Climate change isn’t something we can afford to delay acting on so it’s positive to see the NHS showing leadership on the issue.
“The NHS as an employer can support staff to do small things which can all make a difference. However, it’s clear that we must also focus on the impacts of the system as a whole, and how the NHS can move towards net-zero as quickly as possible. It must use all the levers available to it, particularly those which encourage suppliers to move towards net-zero.
“Hospitals also have an opportunity to use their influence as key anchor institutions in local communities to drive positive change beyond their walls. Together staff and hospitals can make a big impact relatively quickly, by reducing wastage and promoting active transport. I know our members stand ready to help.”
Royal College of Emergency Medicine
Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “This is an important initiative for the NHS, and we would encourage all staff to sign up.
“The air pollution and increased frequency of adverse heat events caused by the burning of fossil fuels lead to higher rates of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and mental health crises, all of which will increasingly impact on the already stretched emergency care system.
“The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has declared a climate emergency and is exploring ways in which we can help tackle the problems, both as an organisation and a specialty. We encourage every organisation and specialty in the healthcare sector to look at what they can do to be ‘greener’ and supporting the ‘For a Greener NHS’ campaign is a great place to start.”
Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation
Kay Boycott, joint chief executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “Breathing in toxic air is particularly dangerous for the 12m people living in the UK with lung conditions, sometimes with fatal and devastating consequences. High pollution can trigger asthma attacks and COPD exacerbations and worsen symptoms for people already struggling to breathe.
“It’s in all our interests for healthcare to be as environmentally friendly as possible, whilst ensuring patient care is not compromised. There is so much the NHS can do, from cleaning up the vehicle fleet to advising respiratory patients on the risks of air pollution. We are pleased to see this commitment by the NHS and look forward to seeing action very shortly.”
British Heart Foundation
Jacob West, executive director of healthcare innovation at the British Heart Foundation said: “As one of the country’s largest employers, the NHS has a critical role to play in curbing air pollution – and this commitment today shows they intend to take the lead in protecting the nation’s health. A net carbon zero NHS will help reduce levels of fine particulate pollution, as many of the sources of CO2 and fine particulate matter are the same. These tiny particles enter our bloodstream and can get stuck in organs such as our heart, increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
“By encouraging NHS workers to share car journeys and take public transport, the health service will play a valuable role in the much needed reduction of air pollution levels. Cutting levels of toxic air will in turn mean fewer cases of disease in the years to come – we hope other organisations will now follow NHS England’s lead.”
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “Given the size of our carbon footprint, the NHS has both a moral obligation and a unique opportunity to lead national action to address our current global climate emergency.
“Given that global warming is inexorably leading to significant increases in a range of physical and mental health conditions including cancer, heart attacks, anxiety disorders, strokes and severe asthma attacks, it also makes complete sense in terms of trying to manage future health demand.”
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Involving staff is crucial if the NHS is to help the UK meet its emissions targets in good time. They know more than anyone how the health service ticks and so are best placed to make practical green suggestions to get the NHS to where it needs to be.
“But the implications for the NHS building stock are huge. Everyone must now work together to understand how environment-harming heating and lighting systems can be replaced without redirecting funds from patient care.”
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “Britain will not achieve its green ambition unless we transform the way the NHS operates. The health service represents more than 10 per cent of the economy, it is the biggest employer in the country and it produces vast amounts of carbon. But the challenge is also a great opportunity – working with local government, its thousands of suppliers and its million plus staff, the NHS can be a major force in building a green future. Our members are already making progress, but they are committed to doing much more as we aim to create a carbon-free NHS.”
BMA representative body chair Dr Helena McKeown said: “As doctors, we are becoming increasingly concerned about the damaging impact that air pollution is having on the public’s health, young and old, from lung conditions to heart disease, diabetes and dementia.
“On a wider level, the world is beginning to wake up to the reality of the lifelong health consequences that those born today will be subject to if urgent action is not taken to combat rising temperatures.
“As those tasked with looking after the health of the nation, it is positive to see that our health service is already leading by example by providing environmentally friendly healthcare for patients.
“Going this step further demonstrates the kind of ambitious action that we need to see from other organisations, and importantly from the Government and corporations, if we are to accelerate the point at which we can achieve carbon neutrality and ultimately protect the health of future generations.”
Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) Europe
Will Clark, executive director – Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) Europe, said: “The health sector is on the frontline when it comes to dealing with the ever-increasing effects of climate change, and yet the sector is contributing to the problem through greenhouse gas emissions from its activities, undermining the health of the very communities it serves – globally, the healthcare sector’s climate footprint is equivalent to 4.4% of global net greenhouse gas emissions and in the UK healthcare is responsible for 5.4% of the country’s net emissions.
“As the health and environmental impacts of climate change become ever clearer, the healthcare sector needs to recognise the opportunity it has to lead the way in tackling this global crisis and take immediate action to reduce its own carbon footprint.
“The healthcare sector is a large-scale procurer of food, energy, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals – considering the products they choose and how they purchase and use them can have a huge positive impact on patient wellbeing and healthcare costs, as well as reducing environmental harm.
“This announcement provides a shining example of how a national health system can respond to the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN’s sustainable development agenda (SDGs). By committing to net-zero and demonstrating that this can be done, the NHS will provide a model for other health systems in Europe to emulate, leading the way for the rest of the world to follow.”
Royal College of GPs
Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “The effects of climate change can have a severe impact on the health of patients – and in the UK, we are already seeing the emergence of a second seasonal peak in demand for NHS services right across the system due to heat-related conditions over the summer.
“As a College we accept our responsibility to provide leadership in tackling climate change and already have a strong track record on environmental sustainability as the first medical Royal College to divest from fossil fuel companies.
“The aspiration for the NHS to become net-zero on carbon emissions ahead of the national target of 2050 is both good and necessary. We look forward to seeing robust policy recommendations come from this review as to how we can make this happen, and that these are implemented and backed by appropriate funding.”
Dr Jennifer Dixon, Chief Executive of the Health Foundation said: “This campaign is good for the planet, good for our health, and a good initiative from Britain’s largest organisation.”
Royal College of Surgeons of England
Professor Derek Alderson, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: “The latest research shows that climate change is already harming human health around the world. Flooding enables contagious diseases to spread, bush fires lead to loss of life and affect air quality for millions, while pollution in cities around the world is damaging lung health.
“We know climate change is bad for our health, so it is vital the NHS, and all health organisations, play our part. In the world of surgery, we are looking at how to make operating theatres ‘greener’ and promoting active travel. Cycling or walking has the double benefit of reducing carbon emissions and being good for your health. It is vital, both for the planet and human health, that we work together to reduce our environmental footprint.”
UK Health Alliance on Climate Change
Dr Richard Smith, Chair of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, said: “The World Health Organisation has described climate change as ‘the defining health challenge of our time’, and through heatwaves, flooding, and air pollution, it is already shortening the lives of people in the UK and around the world.
“But we know that actions that are good for the planet are also good for our health. By reducing our emissions, for example by cycling or walking instead of driving, we can simultaneously improve our health and the health of the planet.
“Health professionals have a duty to protect the health of the public so it’s fantastic that the NHS is leading by example and taking action to end its contribution to this climate and emergency. The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, which represents over 650,000 health professionals working across the NHS, fully supports this campaign.”
Royal College of Anaesthetists
Dr Lucy Williams, Royal College of Anaesthetists Council Lead for Sustainability, said: “The NHS Long Term Plan commits the health service to reducing its carbon footprint and has challenged the specialty of anaesthesia to deliver 2% of this reduction by transforming anaesthetic practices. The NHS produces higher emissions than the global average for healthcare with 5% of the carbon footprint from acute organisations coming from anaesthetic gases. Just one hour’s use of desflurane gas is the equivalent of driving 230 miles.
“Meeting targets will require a fundamental shift in clinical practices – NHS hospitals and their anaesthetic departments and teams must recognise the need for change and take appropriate actions. The College is committed to collaborating with the Association of Anaesthetists and other stakeholders to promote sustainability and work towards increasing the use of less harmful anaesthetic agents, amongst other actions. Together we can help tackle the climate ‘health emergency’ and deliver a more environmentally sustainable future.”
Royal College of Nursing
Dame Donna Kinnair, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “As the largest profession delivering healthcare, nursing is uniquely placed to advocate, educate and lead action to mitigate the risks associated with global temperature increases.
“RCN members recognise the importance of healthcare providers acting on climate change now for the benefit of patients and population health. As a profession, we can influence in driving changes to help us practice, work and live in more sustainable ways.
“The RCN is already taking steps to help nursing staff and their employers reduce avoidable waste through initiatives such as our Glove Awareness Week, which aims to educate nursing staff about appropriate glove use. We also support members to get involved in decisions about procurement, and contribute ideas to making care more sustainable, through our ‘Small Changes, Big Difference’ campaign.
“There is already great work happening with members changing practices to help reduce their workplace’s carbon footprint, while improving care. We’re committed to extending that to help all those involved in healthcare to reduce the impact on the environment on delivering such care.”
ACEVO CEO Vicky Browning said: “Tackling climate change should be on the agenda of every workplace across the globe, and I am pleased that NHS England is taking action through this new campaign.
“Climate change isn’t someone else’s responsibility, it is all our responsibility and we should work collectively across the public, private and not for profit sectors in order to halt the climate crisis. ACEVO looks forward to working with and supporting NHS England on this important initiative.”
The following NHS teams, groups and organisations are also working to support the ‘For a greener NHS’ programme:
The Sustainable Development Unit (SDU)
Our Sustainable Development Unit (SDU) leads the ‘For a greener NHS’ programme, working across the health and care sector to embed and promote sustainable practices; reduce emissions; save resources; and improve the health of people and communities.
The NHS Sustainability Board
The NHS Sustainability Board is the national coordinating body for the work being carried out by the SDU, Estates and Facilities, Commercial, Clinical and other groups.
NHS Estates and Facilities Management
Every NHS building uses heat, light, water and energy. The carbon emissions from our hospital buildings alone exceed three million tonnes a year – without accounting for the emissions of the goods and services we use, or the emissions from 98,400 staff commuting to and from work. The NHS Estates and Facilities Team supports activity to address these emissions.
NHS Commercial Solutions
Producing and delivering our products and services accounts for more than half of the overall footprint of the NHS. The choices and purchases we make can play a significant part in reducing our emissions.
Regional Networks and Groups
The SDU coordinates the ‘For a greener NHS’ work by running activity across the health and care systems to support regional networks and both internal and external groups.
- Find out more about the Net Zero programme.