Greener NHS Campaign To Tackle Climate ‘Health Emergency’

NHS Chief Sir Simon Stevens has today announced the NHS and its staff will step up action to tackle the climate “health emergency” this year, helping prevent illness, reducing pressure on A&Es, and saving tens of thousands of lives. The initiative follows the launch of the Climate Assembly UK this week, which is discussing how the country can best get to ‘net zero’.

The causes of air pollution and climate change are often the same, so the ‘For a greener NHS’ campaign will help address both. The health and care system in England is responsible for an estimated 4-5% of the country’s carbon footprint.

Air pollution is linked to killer conditions like heart disease, stroke and lung cancer, contributing to around 36,000 deaths annually.

A recent study by Kings College London looking at nine English cities demonstrated that on high pollution days there are 673 additional out-of-hospital cardiac arrests and hospital admissions for stroke and asthma, with spikes in ambulance 999 call outs.

Last month a group of 175 doctors warned that air pollution is directly adding to current pressures in accident and emergency departments.

The changing climate is leading to more frequent heatwaves and extreme weather events such as flooding, including the potential spread of infectious diseases to the UK. 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.

Scientists believe perhaps a third of new asthma cases might be avoided by cutting emissions while Lyme Disease and encephalitis are among conditions expected to become more common as temperatures rise.

Health chief Sir Simon Stevens has today announced three steps the NHS will take during 2020 to tackle this problem.

First, NHS England is establishing an expert panel to chart a practical route map this year 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.

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.

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens 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 today 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.”