Briefing

Putting sustainability at the heart of an NHS reset

This briefing summarises views from health and environmental leaders on how healthcare can improve its approach to climate issues.

18 December 2020

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The climate emergency is a health emergency and the NHS has a significant role to play in the response. As the largest public sector contributor to climate change in Europe, the NHS has a duty to set an example in sustainable development and carbon emission reduction.

This briefing follows a roundtable discussion in September 2020, held in partnership with Boehringer Ingelheim and attended by leaders in the health and environmental fields, on how healthcare can improve its approach to climate issues.

It aims to build on NHS England and NHS Improvement’s report on delivering a net zero NHS and the strength of NHS organisations, local authorities, local businesses and academia working together to bring about real change.

It is essential reading for anyone working in healthcare or doing business with the NHS, who wants a better understanding of how to turn talk about sustainability into action.

Key points

  • In October 2020, the NHS adopted a multi-year plan to become the world’s first carbon net zero health system. Set out in Delivering a ‘Net Zero’ National Health Service, the plan covers action on the NHS’s carbon footprint and the entire scope of its emissions.
  • The NHS Net Zero Strategy goes far beyond the traditional role of the NHS as a self-contained clinical organisation. Forward-thinking NHS leaders recognise that their role extends beyond just their patients’ presenting health needs and galvanise others outside of the NHS to take action too. This happens through partnerships with local authorities, local businesses and academia working
  • together to bring about real change.
  • Traditional NHS barriers, such as bureaucracy and long lead-in times, are making progress slow in this area. But changes can happen with the right leadership and frontline staff buy in.
  • COVID-19 has shown that important changes can be made quickly in a crisis. Climate change is a crisis which needs to be addressed as a priority and with as much speed as the response to the pandemic.
  • Working with others, including industry, businesses, local authorities and university partners, is the only way forward. Business partnerships are essential, not something to be cautious of. Climate change cannot be addressed without an effort on all parts.