Currently, the NHS is estimated to account for about 4% of the UK’s carbon footprint. This excludes other indirect costs such as staff, patient and visitor travel and medicines used within the home. The NHS in England, Scotland and Wales have all made commitments to reduce carbon emissions with targets to achieve net zero and actions to deliver greener and more sustainable healthcare. The impact of health systems and services on climate change is not exclusive to the UK, it is a global problem that needs action across nations. Health services contribute to climate change both directly and indirectly.
Health services, and the way in which we deliver care, are major contributors to climate change. Climate change, in return, poses a huge burden on human health and health services through increased disease, heat and flood-related mortality, and food security. The covid pandemic has demonstrated the great innovation and adaptability of our governments, health service and communities – vaccines were rolled out an unprecedented rate and scale, innovative systems and solutions were implemented across healthcare services, and we adapted to new ways of living and working with less travel and more online interactions. There is much to be learned from these actions as governments, health boards, trusts and individuals work towards establishing health systems and services that are kinder to the environment and benefit health.