According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (2018), human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels. In addition, the IPCC concludes there is high degree of confidence that global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052, if it continues to increase at the current rate. The UK Parliament declared a “climate emergency” on 1 May 2019.
Whilst solutions to slow the rate of climate change require complex and significant intergovernmental action, UK healthcare leaders also play a vital role within their organisations, partnerships, and local communities. This article describes what the NHS has been doing since the Climate Change Act 2008, including: the way it uses its significant estates; how it uses equipment; waste reduction and recycling; energy efficiency; water consumption; reductions in single use plastics; lower carbon inhalers; changes to anaesthetics practices; improving quality and productivity of services; and improvements to its transport fleet.
The full article also describes a model of sustainable health and care system, which is one which is achieved by delivering high quality care and improved public health without exhausting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage.
The Sustainable Development and Management Plan is a key aspect of sustainable healthcare delivery for board level ownership and scrutiny. The toolkit includes resources to support organisations to address issues such as air pollution, energy use, greenspace, carbon emissions, climate change and adaptation, through working through 10 modules. In addition, healthcare leaders should, as part of the legal requirements in the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, ensure that sustainability and social impact is considered in decision making at all levels within an organisation or across a partnership or local health economy.
Greater investment in innovation in sustainable development in healthcare is needed if change is to occur on an industrial scale.
Senior leaders in the NHS are increasingly expected to work in partnership at systems level to improve outcomes for their local population, staff, and to collaborate with other local partners in a range of public and private sectors, as well as with local and national government. I make the case that effective leadership to improve complex outcomes such as addressing climate change, reducing health inequalities and improving health outcomes, needs a different set of skills compared to leading within an organisation. I conclude that today’s healthcare leaders are called to play their part in reducing the NHS carbon footprint as a part of the jigsaw to reduce the rate of global warming; and that the greater challenge will be for healthcare leaders to also consider the future needs of their populations and staff: scientists are clear that a global climate emergency is evolving in front of our eyes.
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