NHS falling behind on carbon reduction efforts

Latest figures show number of trusts expected to hit government 2020 target down from 41% to 39%

The new report sets out how the NHS is meeting government targets for a reduction in carbon emissions

Growing pressure on healthcare services is threatening to derail plans to reduce the NHS’s carbon footprint in line with tough government targets.

A 32-page Health Check report, published late last month, revealed that, while the NHS had saved more than £90m on waste, water and energy costs over the past 12 months; the number of providers on track to meet carbon reduction targets has dropped from 41% in 2017 to 39% this year.

As the health and care system continues to face increasing demands and financial pressures; this report demonstrates the importance of ensuring sustainability is part of the transformation of health and social care services

There are now fewer organisations expected to hit the Government’s expectation of a 34% reduction in overall emissions by 2020 based on baseline figures taken in 2008.

There are several reasons behind this, including a summer of record-breaking temperatures and an increasing pressure and demand on services from an ageing population with increasingly-complex health and social care demands.

The figures are given in the 2018 Health Check document, compiled by NHS England, Public Health England, and the NHS Sustainable Development Unit (SDU).

Entitled Sustainable development in the health and care system; it is the second annual review of progress and prospects against the targets.

It reveals that the health and social care sector is responsible for just under 5% of the country’s entire carbon emission; and constitutes 25% of government spend and 10% of the country’s workforce.

Therefore, says the report, it has huge potential for making a positive impact on the reduction in energy use and waste.

In the foreword, Martin Reeves, chief executive of Coventry City Council on behalf of the Cross System Group for Sustainable Development in Health, said: “We often overestimate what we can achieve in one year, but underestimate what can be achieved in 10.

“We now have every possible encouragement to keep taking clear action, from the framework set by the UN in the Global Goals for Health (Sustainable Development Goals) to the inspirational work of professional and local social movements.

“The best organisations are adapting quickly to these new forces and catalysts.”

We often overestimate what we can achieve in one year, but underestimate what can be achieved in 10

He added: “Well-led and well-run hospitals are reassessing their future roles: evolving from illness and repair centres, to smarter, more-adaptable organisations that help co-ordinate services across the community.

“The activities of healthcare organisations are increasingly being viewed as investments in our future wellbeing – not just as costs to our current purse.”

Over the past 12 months, the report states there has been progress in five key areas:

  • An increased focus on the principles and ambitions of sustainable development across national and local health and care organisations; including Public Health England declaring its support for the UN’s Global Goals for Health, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence testing how environmental issues can be made an integral part of evidence-based guidance
  • Sustainable development and health has seen increased focus across all government departments
  • The SDU has supported the development of new networks of health and care sustainable development ambassadors across the country
  • THE SDU has introduced a more-comprehensive set of tools, guidance, expertise and case studies to enable organisations to embrace sustainable development
  • The work the SDU has supported has delivered financial savings from reduction in the energy, water and waste bills of the NHS. This has led to cost savings in excess of £90m and a reduction in carbon of 330,000 tonnes

Professor Paul Cosford, national director for health protection and medical director of Public Health England, states in the report: “As the health and care system continues to face increasing demands and financial pressures; this report demonstrates the importance of ensuring sustainability is part of the transformation of health and social care services.

Well-led and well-run hospitals are reassessing their future roles: evolving from illness and repair centres, to smarter, more-adaptable organisations that help co-ordinate services across the community

“As we reflect on the progress over the last 10 years, we want to enable individuals and organisations to be creative in how they take this agenda forwards, allowing us all, now and in the future, to live richer lives and leave a legacy we can be proud of.”

Figures revealed in the report include an upswing in the proportion of sustainability reports meeting minimum standards – from 69% to 85%.

And reports identified as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ are up from 36% to 45%.

Carbon emissions from building energy use have declined in the past 12 months, saving over £80m; while water usage has reduce, saving £8.5m.

Waste data shows only 15% is now going to landfill, with overall waste costs down by £6m in the last year.

And the SDU calculates air pollution costs to health from NHS-related travel and transport is £311m, down by £13m.

Over the next 12 months the SDU will drive further improvement through the NHS supply chain, embedding waste, water and carbon impacts into NICE guidance.

Organisations will also be supported to better quantify the health and economic value of embedding sustainability into all operations.

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