NHS England and its staff will strive to tackle the climate ‘health emergency’ this year and reach net zero, its chief executive has announced.
The bold move, announced by NHS chief Sir Simon Stevens, will reduce pressure on accident and emergency departments, help prevent illness and save tens of thousands of lives.
The announcement came hot on the heels of the Climate Assembly UK launch, which is discussing how the country can best get to ‘net zero’.
The NHS is the only healthcare system in the world to be routinely reporting on greenhouse gas emissions and the health and care system is responsible for an estimated 4-5 per cent of the country’s carbon footprint.
Sir Simon Stevens announced the NHS will launch a trio of initiatives consisting of an expert panel, a proposed new NHS Standard Contract and a campaign ‘For a greener NHS’ which will encourage staff and hospitals to reduce their impact on people’s health and the environment.
The expert panel will chart a practical route map to enable the NHS to get to ‘net zero’, which will make it the world’s first major health service to do so.
Dr Nick Watts, of University College London, will chair the NHS Net Zero Expert Panel. The medical doctor is also executive director of Lancet Countdown, the independent international expert group that tracks the links between climate change and health. The panel will look at changes the NHS can make in its own activities, in its supply chain and through wider partnerships.
The Panel will submit an interim report to NHS England in the summer with the final report expected in the Autumn, ahead of the COP26 International Meeting in Glasgow.
Sir Simon Stevens, who will also act as an adviser to Climate Assembly UK, 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.
“Patients and the public rightly want the NHS to deliver for them today, and to help safeguard the future health of our children and grandchildren.
“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.
“Indeed, if health services across the world were their own country, they’d be the fifth-largest emitter on the planet.
“That’s why we are mobilising our 1.3million 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.”
Dr Nick Watts said: “The NHS in England leads the world in taking action on climate change and improving public health along the way, so I am delighted to have been asked by Sir Simon Stevens to help chart a route to a net zero health service.
“Everyone who works in healthcare has a responsibility to take action on the health emergency posed by climate change, and I encourage all NHS staff to join the campaign to feed in their ideas and help drive this forward.”
The proposed new NHS Standard Contract will call on hospitals to reduce carbon from buildings and estates, switch to less polluting anaesthetic gases, better asthma inhalers and encourage more active travel for staff.
The ‘For A Greener NHS’ campaign will be supported by the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change – which includes representative bodies covering over 650,000 NHS staff. The campaign will build on the work already underway to help trusts and staff to cut emissions, energy use and waste, including phasing out oil and coal boilers and increased use of LED lighting and electric vehicles.