Low carbon health care

The NHS is the most significant public sector contributor to climate change, and is under increasing pressure to reduce its carbon footprint.

Carbon footprint of the NHS

The NHS in England is responsible for around 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually (1), and spends over £50 million a year on carbon permits.

The cost of these permits and other environmental policy measures is set to increase over time.

The NHS is currently seen as a world leader in developing a strategic approach towards sustainability, with the establishment of an NHS Sustainable Development Unit and publication of an NHS Carbon Reduction Strategy.

The carbon footprint of the NHS is shaped as much by models of care and clinical behaviours as it is by the buildings and technologies used (1). Substantial changes in service models would be needed to reduce health care-related carbon emissions in line with wider national targets.

59 per cent of NHS carbon emissions are linked to procured goods, 24 per cent to direct energy use in buildings and 17 per cent to patient and staff travel. Pharmaceutical production alone accounts for 22 per cent of NHS emissions (1). More efficient use of pharmaceuticals could deliver financial and environmental benefits, potentially including recycling of unused medicines where clinically safe.

Some forms of care have particularly high environmental costs, eg, one year of kidney dialysis is equivalent to seven return flights between London and New York (2). Highly carbon-intensive interventions and services will become decreasingly cost effective over time as environmental policy tools are strengthened and energy prices rise.

NHS carbon dioxide emissions

nhs-carbon-footprint.jpg

Source: Naylor C, Appleby J (2012). Report. Sustainable health and social care: Connecting environmental and financial performance

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References

  1. NHS Sustainable Development Unit (2012). Report. NHS England Carbon Footprint Update
  2. Naylor C, Appleby J (2012). Report. Sustainable health and social care: Connecting environmental and financial performance