Climate Change and the NHS

Climate Change and the NHS

As many of you know I am a retired doctor. So, what happens in the NHS is very close to my heart. Of course, you know another cause close to my heart is the environment. What you might not know is that climate change has been called ‘the biggest global health threat of the 21st Century’1 Health care and climate change are inexorably linked, and I am so pleased to tell you all that the NHS agrees with me.

I know that many of you who have received help from the NHS have commented on the waste that you see, particularly surrounding PPE. Some things we can’t avoid as for obvious hygiene reasons, so much is single use.

Well, there is good news, and this blog is going tell you all about it. In my blog back in 2022, I told you about green initiatives happening within the NHS – and this week I want to tell you about another article that I read in the British Medical Journal which put a smile on my face.

Last month, Nick Watts, the NHS chief sustainability officer (yes, the NHS has one too), told the Royal College of Physician’s conference ‘When you go out and you ask NHS staff what do you want to see the NHS do more of,  the response is thunderous … 92% want to see the NHS tackle climate change directly’.

Indeed, at the same conference, the Royal College of Physicians launched a position paper on healthcare sustainability and climate change. It calls on the government to update the NHS constitution with the NHS’s net zero targets and to ‘make clear that this is a key responsibility for all staff’.

So, with the knowledge that most NHS staff wish to do something about climate change and do their part, here are two wonderful stories of where that change is being made.

The first is my favourite. What do you do if you have a patient in theatre (in the hospital of St Cross Rugby as it happens in this case) and the prosthetic that you need is in Coventry? Well, you transport it over via drone of course! This is exactly what happened a few weeks ago.

Using a drone showed a more than 95% reduction in emissions when compared to road transport, this remained more than a 90% reduction even when compared to an electric van. It also halves the journey time, which is crucial for instance, if urgent blood or other equipment needs to be delivered. To date, I understand that the technology is not fully functional however, and there are some technical things that need ironing out, including the fact that the drones are not fond of the rain – not brilliant for the UK, but hopefully they will sort that one out soon!

Another NHS climate saving story comes from The Royal Free Hospital in London. Here with one decision to switch the dialysis unit from using individual cans of ‘concentrate’ which is needed with each patient treatment session to a

central delivery system, the hospital calculated that they would immediately save £20,000 a year with the concentrate, 2.5 hours of staff time each day, and 6188Kg CO2 equivalent a year in concentrate with 22 299 Kg CO2 savings from the difference in packaging. It’s a win-win all round.

Finally, throughout Britain, NHS staff are talking to patients about what is best for them and for the climate, this includes reducing the frequency that follow up is needed in stable patients so reducing travelling and transport time and fuel.

Nothing is going to happen overnight, and one change alone won’t solve our climate and plastic problems. But well done for those people in the NHS who are trying to make the difference, I’m sure that more will follow, and when they do I will let you know!



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