NHS green plans driving action

nhs ambulance in london
© VVShots

Dr Nick Watts, Chief Sustainability Officer of the NHS, reveals how the NHS green plans are driving action

The world’s first zero emission hydrogen electric ambulance capable of travelling up to 300 miles before re-charging. Solar panels that save Hull University Teaching Hospitals Trust between £250,000-£300,000 a month during the summer. Chemotherapy delivered by drone on the Isle of Wight, saving carbon emissions and reducing delivery times for patients. Overall, NHS green plans are evolving all across the country.

Towards a net zero health service

In 2020, the NHS became the world’s first health system to commit to reaching net zero emissions with two targets: net zero by 2040 for the emissions we control directly, and 2045 for the emissions that the NHS influences. Progress so far has been good and NHS teams up and down the country are already pioneering many innovative sustainable healthcare solutions. Crucially, these interventions directly improve patient care, reduce costs, and support the health of the communities we serve.

In July a milestone was reached: every Integrated Care Board and all 212 NHS trusts in England – including more than 1,000 hospitals and healthcare facilities – now have a green plan in place which together will cut more than 1 million tonnes of carbon emissions in the next three years, the equivalent of taking 520,000 cars off the road.

Innovation to drive net zero progress

Action is now underway to put these plans into practice and reduce carbon emissions in all areas of the system. Innovation will be key to driving forward progress for NHS green plans, and this summer has seen the launch of two competitions to uncover new ideas.

The Delivering a Net Zero NHS: Clinical Innovation competition, funded by the Accelerated Access Collaborative, and in partnership with Greener NHS and the Academic Health Science Networks, seeks innovative solutions that will directly impact the carbon footprint of the NHS, while improving patient care.

In particular, the focus is to uncover new ideas to address the decarbonisation of surgical pathways, the reduction of waste in surgery and critical care, as well as innovations for personalised care and the development of tools to help our workforce move to a greener NHS.

Staff support for NHS net zero

There is overwhelming support for a greener NHS across the system (You Gov, 2021) – 9 in 10 staff support the NHS net zero ambition. So in August, we also launched our Healthier Futures Fund to support individuals and teams within NHS organisations to kick-start innovative initiatives that will improve health and patient care, deliver value and support the NHS green plans to reach net zero. The response from staff has been overwhelming – from ideas for innovations in waste reduction and the introduction of sustainable technologies, through to new clinical pathways, active travel and cleaner air initiatives, NHS staff demonstrated their passion and commitment for a more sustainable health service.

Staff support a greener NHS because they recognise that sustainable healthcare not only goes hand in hand with high-quality patient care, but is also vital for the benefits it brings for public and patient health. Air pollution is the single greatest environmental threat to health in the UK, contributing to one in 20 deaths and increased cases of asthma, cancer and heart disease. The WHO estimates that more than 13 million deaths around the world each year are due to avoidable environmental causes.

Climate change & delivering net zero

In the meantime, NHS travel and transport accounts for 3.5% of all UK road traffic and the NHS is responsible for an estimated 4-5% of England’s total carbon footprint. The NHS is both a part of the problem and the solution; it must tackle climate change at source if it is to deliver on its core purpose: to improve health and care for patients and the public.

The new, amended Health and Care Bill now places a duty on NHS organisations to deliver net zero and take action to mitigate against the impacts of climate change in their operations, making the NHS the first healthcare system to embed net zero in legislation.

Climate change poses a profound and growing threat to health, but new innovations and the actions of NHS staff are already adding up – and together we will achieve even more.

© Crown copyright

Contributor Profile

Chief Sustainability Officer
NHS England
Phone: +44 (0)300 311 22 33
Website: Visit Website


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here