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13
Sep

How green is our health service?


A new report from the Sustainable Development Unit (SDU) shows that local organisations across the health service are saving money by making more efficient use of resources as well as benefiting the environment.

 

‘Reducing the use of natural resources in health and social care’ reports on the performance of the health and social care system and the NHS on carbon emissions, water usage, air pollution and waste. 

 

In spite of growing numbers of patients, over the last decade the health and care system has reduced its carbon footprint by 18.5%, slashed its water footprint by the equivalent of 243,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools and ensured that over 85% of NHS provider waste avoids going directly to landfill.

 

Carbon footprint

The reduction of 18.5% equates in scale to the annual emissions from a small country, such as Mauritius or Cyprus and represents significant progress against the Climate Change Act national targets. Reductions have accelerated in the last three years against a backdrop of increased clinical activity, but faster and more determined progress is required to keep on track to meet the future Climate Change Act targets.

 

Water

This report constitutes a global first national health and care system water footprint, looking at both direct water used in health and care delivery and ‘virtual’ water used in the manufacture and supply of the goods and services purchased. 

 

Food and catering is the biggest single contributor to water impact, representing 28.7%.

 

Air pollution

Health and care related travel constitutes around 5% of all road travel in England every year. NHS-related travel has been more robustly quantified at 9.5bn miles in 2017, which equates to nearly 3.5% of road travel in England. An economic impact of £345m has been estimated for the potential mortality effects and costs to society of air pollution from NHS related travel.

 

The largest source of pollution relates to patient travel and staff commuting. Better design of care could therefore contribute to reductions in air pollution.

 

Waste

NHS providers in 2016/17 generated nearly 590,000 tonnes of waste, 85% of which avoided going directly to landfill and 23% of which was recycled. Sustainable use of resources and effective waste management will be a key area for the NHS in years to come.

 

Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, says: "As we develop the long term plan for the NHS, we are driving efficiency in all its forms across the health service. By cutting fuel bills, water usage, plastics and energy emissions the NHS is both saving taxpayers cash while helping prevent air pollution, climate change and environmental degradation."

 

Targets for 2018/19

The SDU has identified three key areas on which it intends to focus, working with partners and stakeholders to drive, support and encourage system-wide transformation towards a more sustainable healthcare system.

 

These include reducing the levels of plastic waste, addressing carbon hotspots to improve carbon and water efficiency and working to improve air quality through a number of initiatives.

 

For more information, download the full report here.

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