NHS Voices blogs

NHS Reset: Let's reset the NHS to green

 A look at how to harness the positive environmental impact of COVID-19 and reset to a greener NHS.
Gideon Ben-Tovin OBE

24 August 2020

NHS Reset is an NHS Confederation campaign to help shape what the health and care system should look like in the aftermath of the pandemic.

In this blog, Gideon Ben-Tovim OBE, chair of the Innovation Agency, looks at the opportunities to harness the positive environmental impact of the pandemic and reset to become a cleaner, greener NHS.

The Innovation Agency is the Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) for the North West Coast and we are pleased to be working with all AHSNs, the NHS Confederation and the Health Foundation on the NHS Reset campaign.

So far, however, there has been relatively little reference within the campaign to the green recovery that many institutions across the country are now urgently considering, as they think through how economic recovery can dovetail with action to deal with the climate and ecological emergencies that have not gone away.

Understandably, NHS colleagues are preoccupied with the enormous clinical and workforce challenges, sacrifices and transformations this crisis has created.  

But the post-COVID-19 fresh start or ‘new normal’ that is widely under debate provides a golden opportunity to rethink the environmental path we in the NHS can take as we move into the reset phase of the pandemic.

There has been widespread appreciation of reduced traffic, quieter roads and skies, improved air quality, beneficial green spaces and wildlife, more walking and cycling - and better work-life balance for many of those able to work from home. This all has a positive impact on physical and mental health and wellbeing as well as on the natural environment.

The dangers of over-dependence on lengthy, complex and unsustainable supply chains have also been graphically and tragically demonstrated during this crisis.

So we should seize the opportunity to reset many of our activities within the NHS that can build on the learning from this crisis and can resume the now stalled For a Greener NHS campaign, launched earlier this year by Sir Simon Stevens.

Here are some of my suggestions for a green and just NHS Reset:

  • Continue with as much working from home as possible to cut down on unnecessary travel and consequent toxic emissions.
  • Embed new virtual or remote GP and outpatient consultations that have a positive environmental impact, while taking steps to ensure digital inclusion for the whole population.
  • Support local walking and cycling initiatives, and actions to protect and enhance the local natural environment and wildlife. Just last year, we in the Innovation Agency were active partners in the successful Liverpool City Region Year of Environment 2019, organising two very well-attended conferences that inspired us all to do more to use green and blue spaces for health and wellbeing.
  • Revisit environmental policies for sustainable best practice on waste, recycling, transport, plastic use, water, energy, heat, power and buildings.
  • Transform procurement practices to greatly increase the use and development of regional and local suppliers of equipment, materials, goods, and food.
  • Support initiatives such as NHS Forest and Incredible Edible to make our estate greener with more trees, fruit and vegetables. 
  • Reinvigorate the use of ‘social value’ legislation in commissioning decisions, so that they fully take into account social, economic and environmental benefits.
  • Generate significant local and regional employment and training opportunities to help fill NHS vacancies and ameliorate local unemployment.
  • Consider insourcing service staff such as cleaners, security guards, porters and caterers so that all our frontline NHS heroes can be assured of good standards of pay and conditions and can benefit from Agenda for Change.
  • Sign up to and help kick start the national For a Greener NHS campaign. 

We are collectively the largest employer in the country with enormous procurement capacity and extensive estate. 

We are key local anchor institutions with the capacity to help create healthy places and to be major corporate citizens in the enormous recovery challenge facing communities, towns and cities across the country. 

We can play a leading role to not only build back better, but also to grow back greener, healthier and fairer.

If not us, who? If not now, when?

Gideon Ben-Tovim OBE is chair of the Innovation Agency, the Academic Health Science Network for the North West Coast; and chair of the Liverpool City Region Climate Partnership. Follow the Innovation Agency on Twitter @innovationnwc