• New proposed contract for providers as part of “For a Greener NHS” campaign
  • Expert panel will plot the NHS’ route to zero carbon emissions
  • Mr Stevens said the campaign will tackle both a health and climate emergency

An expert panel will this year set “a practical, evidence-based and ambitious date for the NHS to reach net zero” carbon dioxide emissions, NHS England has announced.

Sir Simon Stevens said “we are facing a health emergency as well as a climate emergency”, although the organisation has stopped short of formally “declaring a climate emergency” as many agencies and institutions have done over the past year.

NHSE has launched a campaign — “for a greener NHS” — asking NHS providers and staff to make more environmentally friendly choices. 

It has commissioned an expert panel to “chart a practical route map this year to enable the NHS to get to ‘net zero’”. It will be chaired by independent climate watchdog director Nick Watts and has been asked to submit a final report ahead of a United Nations climate change summit in November. An interim report is expected in the summer.

It will look at the health service’s supply chain, at how technology can reduce journeys for appointments, and evaluate how the NHS can influence the use of renewables in the energy sector, among other things. NHS staff and providers can submit ideas.

Dr Watts, who is executive director of Lancet Countdown, which monitors climate change, said: “Everyone who works in healthcare has a responsibility to take action on the health emergency posed by climate change, and I encourage all NHS staff to join the campaign to feed in their ideas and help drive this forward.”

Sir Simon, NHS England’s chief executive, said: “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.”

NHSE is proposing that the NHS Standard Contract for 2020-21 — currently out to consultation — requires trusts to reduce emissions, choose less polluting anaesthetic gases and inhalers, and promote walking and cycling among staff.

The NHS, which under previous plans has said it will be carbon neutral by 2050, has reduced its carbon emissions over the last decade. Its emissions fell by 18.5 per cent between 2007 and 2017, from 33.3 million tonnes to 27.1 million tonnes, according to Sustainable Development Unit.

But the environmental impact of the health service remains significant. It produced over 590,000 tonnes of waste in the 2016-17 financial year — more than some European countries — according to former chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies.

NHSE estimated its own emissions as an organisation at the equivalent of 12,303 tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2018-19, down from 13,118 the previous year.

In 2017-18, NHSE reported 26,814,268 miles of business travel by its staff — the equivalent of 4,628 per whole time equivalent member of staff. These figures were not given in the 2018-19 annual report.

Several health organisations have formally declared a “climate emergency” including Gloucestershire Hospitals Foundation Trust and Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership.

The Greater Manchester system hopes to save 200,000 deliveries per year by consolidating deliveries through a central logistics hub. It recently told HSJ it was also on track to save 2.8 million plastic utensils by April by switching to sustainable alternatives.

On Wednesday, South Warwickshire Clinical Commissioning Group become the latest organisation to declare a climate emergency. Commissioners also declared a “biodiversity emergency”, recognising the rapid loss of animal and plant species.

The CCG’s chief strategy officer, Anna Hargrave, told HSJ: “We are committing to making changes within our organisation and throughout our practice to improve population health across south Warwickshire and beyond.”

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said: “Given the size of our carbon footprint, the NHS has both a moral obligation and a unique opportunity to lead national action to address our current global climate emergency.

“Given that global warming is inexorably leading to significant increases in a range of physical and mental health conditions including cancer, heart attacks, anxiety disorders, strokes and severe asthma attacks, it also makes complete sense in terms of trying to manage future health demand.”