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NHS to tackle climate ‘health emergency’

The causes of air pollution and climate change are often the same, so the ‘For a greener NHS’ campaign will help address both

29 January 2020
 

NHS Chief Sir Simon Stevens has announced that the NHS and its staff will step up action to tackle the climate ‘health emergency’ this year. 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 NHS will be taking immediate action in 2020, with a proposed new NHS Standard Contract calling on hospitals to reduce carbon from buildings and estates, encourage more active travel for staff and make wider use of electric vehicles.

There is also a commitment to make better use of technology with the aim of making 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.

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.

Sir Simon has 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. 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.

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.

Sir Simon added: ‘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.

Staff and local NHS organisations are being encouraged to feed in ideas to the Expert Panel, and evidence of steps they may have already taken within their own hospital. A new website will help local NHS bodies to share ideas and ramp up initiatives that are already working across the health service.

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