Waste and water scuppering NHS carbon reduction efforts

New NHS Sustainable Development Unit report reveals improvements in carbon usage, but warns more needs to be done

The Health Check 2017 report has been published

  • SDU publishes report on sustainability and carbon reduction within NHS organisations
  • Figures show 0.5% reduction in building energy carbon footprint between 2013/14 and 2015/16
  • Move has saved NHS £66m
  • But more needs to be done around waste disposal and water use

The cost of waste disposal and an increase in water use is scuppering the success of NHS trusts trying to reduce their carbon footprint, a new report warns.

The Health Check 2017 Report has been published by the NHS Sustainable Development Unit and marks the first in a series of annual publications looking at the progress of sustainable development across the health and care system.

Overall, the document shows that organisations are cutting their carbon footprint and saving money through reducing energy use, are having less success in a few key areas, including waste disposal and water use.

The report shows a 0.5% reduction in the building energy carbon footprint between 2013/14 and 2015/16, which has saved the NHS £66m.

“This progress is welcome, particularly as health services face increasing demand and financial challenges,” the report states.

Sustainably developing a health and care system is increasingly being viewed as a quality issue, a health opportunity to be seized, and a cost-effective investment to be made; rather than a cost to be forgone, or a burden to be borne

“However, progress will need to be made at more-ambitious levels over years to come.”

Since 2013, water use in the NHS has increased by 3.5%, and there has been a 9% increase in waste costs, in large part due to high-cost routes such as landfill and incineration - 86% of costs.

The report also includes - for the first time - commitments from nine major health organisations to deliver an environmentally and socially-driven care system.

The national organisations making their pledges are the Department of Health, NHS England, Public Health England (PHE), NHS Improvement, the Care Quality Commission, Health Education England, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), NHS Digital and NHS Property Services – in partnership with the Department of Health.

The report states: “Sustainably developing a health and care system is increasingly being viewed as a quality issue, a health opportunity to be seized, and a cost-effective investment to be made; rather than a cost to be forgone, or a burden to be borne.

“Leaders at every level, and in each part of the system, are more convinced that we can no longer afford to ignore the benefits of acting in a holistically-sustainable way, nor ignore the costs and health risks of delay.

“Every part of the health and care system has a specific part to play: from providers to commissioners, and from regulators to researchers.”

The report reveals how important it is for everyone to play their part in a more-sustainable health and care service

It sets out a number of goals. They include:

  • The Health and Social Care System should help create ‘A healthier environment’: This includes all NHS bodies creating Sustainable Development Management Plans, the implementation of healthy travel plans among staff, and improving biodiversity
  • Communities and services are ready and resilient for changing times and climates: This recognises that NHS organisations also have a key role in local communities in working with local partner institutions to improve sustainability
  • Every opportunity contributes to healthy lives, healthy communities and healthy environments: The NHS provides and oversees approximately 1 million patient contacts every 36 hours and is the country’s largest procurer of goods and services. Every contact can support improvements in the quality and fair access to care, illness prevention, health protection,and the wider determinants of health
  • The Health and Social Care System should help create ‘A healthier environment’: This includes all NHS bodies creating Sustainable Development Management Plans, the implementation of healthy travel plans among staff, and improving biodiversity

It also gives a region-by-region account of successes across England.

In conclusion, the report states: “While national leadership is essential to ensure the appropriate level of priority is given to sustainability at all levels of the health and social care system, this should be focused on ensuring the framework, resources, and expectations are set for local innovation and delivery.”

Every part of the health and care system has a specific part to play: from providers to commissioners, and from regulators to researchers

And it sets out a mandate for the more-widespread adoption of Sustainable Development Management Plans (SDMPs) amid evidence that only 70% of providers have these in place.

“There is real scope for local commissioners to encourage providers to improve on this,” it states.

“Although high-quality plans are essential, it is the evidence of delivery that ultimately leads to better health within available resources.”

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