The climate emergency is a health emergency

Speaking at the Health and Care Innovation Expo alongside Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham today, NHS England & NHS Improvement Chief Executive Simon Stevens sent a clear message to the system, describing the climate emergency as a ‘health emergency’, and reiterating the need for the NHS to be the change it wants to see.

Stevens acknowledged the tangible actions being taken across the system to cut carbon, air pollutants and avoidable single-use plastics from the delivery of care, but called for further action, describing climate change as an issue for now, not tomorrow.

The NHS is already seen as a world leading healthcare system when it comes to sustainability. In 2018 the Sustainable Development Unit (SDU) reported that between 2007 and 2017 the NHS delivered an 18.2% reduction in carbon emissions across the whole NHS value chain.

The NHS is working towards carbon reduction targets in line with the Climate Change Act of 34% by 2020, 51% by 2025 and 57% by 2030; a fast-moving agenda to which the SDU is committed.

However, 40,000 deaths per year in the UK are linked to air pollution – and as Stevens acknowledged during his speech today, the NHS is part of the solution as well as part of the problem, and more must be done to achieve net zero carbon.

It is recognised that delivering incremental improvements in reducing carbon from areas such as travel, and infrastructure will not deliver in its entirely and the NHS must also take advantage of new technology and innovation that can reduce the carbon footprint of healthcare delivery.

NHS leaders will receive further communication, laying out expectations of them and their organisations to achieve this goal, alongside details of dedicated support from national and regional teams.

The SDU will be integral to this support and is developing specific programmes to enable delivery against the key areas of reduction in carbon, reduction in air pollution and reduction in single-use plastics. As set out in the NHS Long Term Plan Implementation Framework, each local system will be setting out how they will cut air pollution and their carbon footprint in their local LTP submissions, and these actions will be laid out in local Sustainable Development Management Plans (SDMPs).

To further support the sustainability commitments within the Long Term Plan, the role of the SDU is expanding, with additional staff joining the Unit to lead projects and strategic activity.

It is recognised that sustainability targets can only be achieved if the whole NHS, and all who work in it, play their part. The greening of the NHS is recognised as a key area of engagement across the sector and communications will be developed to ensure a cohesive approach, with further details to follow.

The SDU will provide further updates as activity develops, particularly in relation to the launch of the full Long Term Plan Implementation Framework this Autumn. Please continue to follow us on Twitter (@SDUHealth) and return to our website for the latest updates as we seek to green the NHS and further the sustainability agenda.