NHS Net Zero and improving health services – a virtuous cycle

The NHS recently presented their ambitious plan to become the world’s first healthcare system to be emissions free. This is an encouraging step and one that we at The Clarity Practice fully support. Over the last 30 years, the NHS has made good progress in reducing their direct carbon footprint by 62%, however they remain responsible for around 4%-5% of the UK's total carbon emissions.

We believe we have a significant contribution to make to the reduction of carbon emissions through the advice we give. Digital development such as virtual consultation and remote working tools and the recent rapid acceleration of their use, have made a direct contribution to reducing carbon emissions but we believe that digitally enabled health and social care pathway redesign has the potential for a far greater impact.

New models of care for those with long term conditions that incorporate digitally enabled remote monitoring and self-care have the potential to reduce carbon emissions as a result of:

  • Reduced visits to healthcare premises – supporting the more efficient use of physical estate and reduction of the overall estate;

  • Opportunities to reduce prescribing and the carbon emissions associated with the pharmaceutical supply chain;

  • Avoiding patient deterioration (as a result of intervention before critical events) thereby reducing the need for more carbon expensive healthcare treatments.

  • Reduced staff and patient travel and avoided journeys and shorter journeys through care closer to home.

When set in the context of a global policy and infrastructure of carbon emission reduction, the bigger picture of digitally enabled new models of care offers the potential for a virtuous cycle of reduced carbon emissions and improved health outcomes.

The ultimate aim of new models of care is to improve the overall health of the population, health that is made worse by carbon emissions – evidenced by for example, increased stroke and heart disease in heatwaves that are made worse by global warming and respiratory conditions exacerbated or caused by pollution.

If efforts to improve the overall health of the population are implemented alongside strategic plans to reduce carbon emissions and the service delivery itself is more environmentally friendly, the mutually re-enforcing effect of improvement in population health and reduction in carbon emissions could be achieved.

A further important driver is the return on investment from initiatives to reduce carbon emissions. We know from our own operating practices that being environmentally friendly doesn’t mean higher operating cost and the same is true of investment in larger service redesign and carbon reduction schemes. Our impact model considers the economic alongside the service user outcomes and experiences, the environment and benefits for the workforce. By doing this we seek to increase the impact of investment in digital.

Achieving this virtuous cycle means of course that individuals, corporations and states must make the changes to reduce their carbon emissions. At The Clarity Practice, we take this responsibility seriously, both in how we deliver our services and in the advice we give. We always seek to deliver our services in way that minimises carbon emissions. This includes remote working and using the most environmentally friendly forms of travel available to us and paying attention to smaller practices that cumulatively can make a difference.