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Launch of new greener NHS campaign

Health system responsible for 4-5% of England’s carbon footprint

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 27 January 2020

GPs and all parts of the NHS workforce are being encouraged to step up efforts to tackle the climate “health emergency” as part of a new greener NHS campaign launched at the weekend.

NHS England has launched a programme backed by a website called For a greener NHS, to help towards the national aim of the UK reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said the NHS and its staff would step up action to tackle the issue in order to help prevent illness, reduce pressure on A&Es, and save tens of thousands of lives.

The health and care system in England is estimated to be responsible for 4-5% of the country’s carbon footprint.

Air pollution is linked to serious conditions such as heart disease, stroke and lung cancer, contributing to around 36,000 deaths annually, said NHS England.

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.

Sir Simon has announced various steps that the NHS will take during 2020 to tackle these problems.

Firstly, NHS England is establishing an expert panel to chart a practical route map to enable the NHS to get to net zero.

The NHS Net Zero Expert Panel which will be chaired by Dr Nick Watts of University College London, will look at changes the NHS can make in its own activities, in its supply chain, and through wider partnerships.

It will also look at changes that can be made in the NHS’s medical devices, consumables and pharmaceutical supply, and areas the NHS can influence such as the energy sector.

Sir Simon said: “With almost 700 people dying potentially avoidable deaths due to air pollution every week we are facing a health emergency as well as a climate emergency.

“While the NHS is already a world leader in sustainability, as the biggest employer in this country comprising nearly a tenth of the UK economy, we’re both part of the problem and part of the solution.

“That’s why today we are mobilising our 1.3 million staff to take action for a greener NHS, and it’s why we’ll be working with the world’s leading experts to help set a practical, evidence-based and ambitious date for the NHS to reach net zero.”

In addition to the expert panel, Sir Simon said the NHS would be taking immediate action, with a proposed new NHS Standard Contract calling on hospitals to reduce carbon from buildings and estates, whilst switching to less polluting anaesthetic gases, better asthma inhalers, and encouraging more active travel for staff.

Staff and local NHS organisations will be encouraged to feed in ideas to the expert panel, and evidence of steps they may have already taken within their own hospital.

British Medical Association representative body chair Dr Helena McKeown said: “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.”

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, 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.”

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