Greener NHS Campaign To Tackle Climate ‘Health Emergency’

Professor Piers Forster, Director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate, joins the expert panel advising the NHS on their pathway to net-zero.

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, 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.

Professor Forster, who joins the NHS Net Zero Expert Panel, said “The NHS is facing unprecedented challenges so why take on the daunting challenge of net-zero? Because a net-zero society is better for the health of our nation.

“Net-zero done the right way will deliver better air quality, healthier lifestyles and diets and more comfortable homes. I’m honoured to play a role in this challenge and will be learning a lot, so all ideas are welcome.”

Dr Nick Watts, of University College London, will chair the 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.