Health service staff to help make NHS net zero carbon pledge a reality

Shaun Lintern
·3-min read
<p>The UK will hoste the United Nations Climate Change Conference later this year</p> (Getty Images)

The UK will hoste the United Nations Climate Change Conference later this year

(Getty Images)

More than one million NHS staff will be asked to make a personal commitment to help the health service achieve its goal of being net zero on carbon emissions by 2045.

NHS England is aiming to launch a campaign in July, as the NHS marks its 73rd birthday, to coincide with the run-up to Cop26 in Glasgow later this year.

Health bosses are planning a campaign to engage staff in efforts to make the NHS greener and to showcase the benefits reducing carbon emissions can have both on their own and their patients’ wider health.

Plans seen by The Independent include an aim that by November this year “at least 100,000 staff have committed to support the NHS to achieve net zero.”

This will include staff pledging to cut their own carbon footprints as well as changes to services which will reduce hospital and NHS carbon emissions going forward.

As the largest employer in the UK, the NHS is thought to contribute almost 5 per cent of the UK’s total carbon footprint.

Since 1990, the NHS has reduced its emissions by 26 per cent and in October last year it became the first healthcare system in the world to commit to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2045. This will include its direct emissions as well as those it can influence such as among businesses and suppliers it works with.

To help drive the new campaign, NHS England has put out a contract tender worth up to £100,000 for a supplier to create the new campaign as well as a toolkit that can be used by local organisations to target their own staff.

According to the contract tender documents, NHS England said: “Reaching this goal matters. The core purpose of the NHS is to improve patient and community health outcomes. Climate change threatens this purpose, undermining the foundations of good health and putting the NHS, its staff, and the people it serves at risk. Tackling climate change is lifesaving, with health benefits gained through cleaner air, active lifestyles, and improved diets.

“As the UK’s largest employer, contributing 4.6 per cent of carbon emissions, the NHS is part of the challenge and the solution. It has a collective responsibility to act, with all 1.3 million staff having a role to play.

Air pollution alone is linked to thousands of deaths and hospital admissions.

Global temperatures have already increased by 1.2C from pre-industrial levels with countries around the world aiming to try and limit temperature rises to 1.5C by the end of this century.

The NHS plan for reaching net zero includes ambitions such as improving hospital buildings and energy use, electrification of vehicles and sourcing more local and healthier food. There will also be a drive to reduce single use materials and plastics.

One of the biggest changes could be more remote and digital working, reducing the need for patients or staff to travel – this has already been massively accelerated during the pandemic.

An NHS spokesperson said: “It’s right that the NHS takes action, as one of the biggest employers in the world, to reduce carbon emissions and last year the health service committed to becoming the world’s first carbon net zero national health system.

“Given the associated demand for health care from carbon emissions, investing in a greener NHS makes sense for taxpayers and for public health.”

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