NHS England is to establish an expert panel to chart a practical route map in 2020 to enable the NHS to get to ‘net zero’, becoming 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. He is a medical doctor and executive director of Lancet Countdown, the independent international expert group that tracks the links between climate change and health. The NHS in England is the only health-care system in the world that is routinely reporting on greenhouse gas emissions. The Expert Panel will look at changes the NHS can make in its own activities; in its supply chain; and through wider partnerships – thereby also contributing to the government’s overall target for the UK.
These include the Long Term Plan commitment to better use technology to make up to 30 million outpatient appointments redundant, sparing patients thousands of unnecessary trips to and from hospital. It is estimated that 6.7 billion road miles each year are from patients and their visitors travelling to the NHS.
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 as the health service moves to using more renewable energy.
In addition to the expert panel, the NHS will also be taking immediate action in 2020, 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.
The health service is also running its own grassroots campaign ‘For a Greener NHS’ to encourage staff and hospitals to cut their impact on people’s health and the environment.
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.
Staff and local NHS organisations are being encouraged to feed in ideas to the Expert Panel, and evidence of steps they may have already taken within their own hospital. A new website https://www.england.nhs.uk/greenernhs/ will help local NHS bodies to share ideas and ramp up initiatives that are already working across the health service.
Collectively the NHS’ 1.3m staff could make a huge impact on the campaign. For example, each person switching to refillable water bottles instead of plastic bottles could save 65kg of CO2 per year. One London trust showed that just by turning off printers, computers and other equipment overnight and managing heat loss each staff member was able to reduce CO2 emissions by an average of 70kg a year.