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NHS Embracing Change For The Better

The NHS becomes the world’s first health system to commit to ‘Carbon Net Zero’.

8th October 2020

Last week the NHS took a major step into the decarbonised future, announcing a multi-year plan to become the world’s first net zero national health system. The move aligns with recommendations by the NHS Net Zero Expert Panel, which convened in January to analyse evidence on how the health service can help reduce UK emissions.

The panel gathered following the launch of the Climate Assembly UK, to analyse evidence on how the health service can contribute to the UK’s carbon reduction efforts.

The Panel comprised public health and climate experts as well as patient and staff representatives. Based on its findings, the NHS has adopted two targets:

  • For emissions under its direct control to reach net zero by 2040, with an interim reduction target of 80 per cent by 2028-32;
  • And for its wider supply chain footprint to reach net zero by 2045, with an 80 per cent reduction target set between 2036 and 2039.

How does the NHS plan to achieve the targets?

Interventions driving the process include:

  • New ways of delivering care at or closer to home, meaning fewer patient journeys to hospitals.
  • Greening the NHS fleet, including working towards road-testing a zero-emissions emergency ambulance by 2022.
  • Reducing waste of consumable products and switching to low-carbon alternatives where possible.
  • Making sure new hospitals and buildings are built to be net-zero emissions.
  • Building energy conservation into staff training and education programmes.

Dr Nick Watts, incoming NHS Chief Sustainability Officer commented:

“We know that 98% of NHS staff believe the health system should be more environmentally sustainable, and even during the busiest period in NHS history, the insight, enthusiasm and commitment from those on the frontline for us to plan for the future has been exceptional.

The NHS’s ambition is world-leading, and the first national commitment to deliver a net zero health service.”

The challenge

The NHS is Europe’s largest employer and also the UK’s largest emitter and therefore faces a major challenge to support the UK’s net zero emissions target. The Environmental Audit Committee informed the government back in June 2020 that it was failing to deliver on climate goals within the health service. The NHS has already missed the Climate Change Act’s original target of a 34 per cent emissions reduction between 1990 and 2020.

However, NHS chief executive Sir Simons Stevens stressed today that the organisation’s new carbon reduction targets would allow the NHS to reduce its emissions and ultimately continue working to improve the health of the nation.

Electric ambulances are already being tested

Some 4 per cent of the UK’s entire greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to the NHS, and when patient and visitor transport and supply chains are included, its annual output is roughly the same as all of Slovenia.

The NHS plans to roll out zero emissions vehicles by 2032, which could include fully electric vehicles. On October 1st 2020 it announced plans to develop and test the world’s first hydrogen-electric hybrid double-crewed ambulance by 2022.

West Midlands Ambulance Service has already announced trials of the UK’s first all-electric ambulance, which has a top range of 75 mph and a range of 105-110 miles and is powered by lithium-ion batteries in the underside of its floor plan.

Creating a sustainable future within NHS Trusts

Many new interventions and practices are likely to be announced in the coming months and years to achieve the targets. One way Trusts can immediately begin to plan for a net zero future is by developing their Green Plan.

Experience suggests that the process of developing a Green Plan – or its Sustainable Development Management Plan predecessor – has been seen by many Trusts as a piece of compliance and currently often rests in a drawer gathering dust.

However, a Green Plan can and should be seen as a mechanism to drive real improvement in a Trusts’ environmental sustainability performance.

For more information on how we can help you develop an actionable Green Plan, contact us on 08451 46 36 26 or email