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How can innovation support the NHS net zero target?

Written by: Kathy Scott - 24th June 2021

We supported the Sustainable Healthcare campaign that launched on the 24th June within the Guardian and Business and Industry online.

Sustainable Healthcare campaign shows how innovation can support the NHS net zero target.

Read more about it in this blog by our Director of Operations and Deputy CEO Kathy Scott. Kathy is also Lead of the AHSN Network Sustainability Community of Interest Group.

How can innovation support the NHS net zero target?

 Innovation is instrumental to the NHS achieving its target of becoming carbon neutral by 2040.

Globally, greenhouse gas emissions from healthcare are equal to the airline industry. The NHS contributes the equivalent of 4% of England’s total carbon footprint. Recognising climate change’s threat to health, the NHS has become the world’s first healthcare system to commit to reaching carbon net zero by 2040.

Although healthcare delivery is complex, there are many direct measures that can help tackle climate change, such as providers switching to renewable energy and reducing waste. However, there are also innovative indirect measures that can have an impact by reducing the need for patients to attend services.

Reducing waste

Remote patient monitoring (RPM) not only supports social distancing by reducing face-to-face appointments, but also reduces unnecessary journeys for patients and staff.

During the first wave of the pandemic, the AHSN Network – the innovation arm of the NHS and collective voice of England’s 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) – supported local healthcare services to accelerate roll-out and uptake of online patient triage by GP practices and remote consultations.

During the second wave, we built on this knowledge to further support frontline services with spread and adoption of RPM. AHSNs supported the roll-out of in-home oximetry devices with the ‘COVID Oximetry at Home’ initiative.

Preventing illness

Procurement links to 62% of the NHS carbon footprint. From February to July 2020, the NHS consumed 3 million items of PPE – almost all single use. During the pandemic, AHSNs collaborated with partners to investigate reusable solutions.

However, to really address the challenges, we must get better at preventing serious illness through the development of new pathways, products and practices. Often there is a way where we can improve patient outcomes, and reduce NHS costs and environmental harm at the same time.

For example, last year over 40,000[i] pregnant women benefited from innovative tests for pre-eclampsia. AHSNs supported the roll-out of Placental Growth Factor (PlGF) tests, which speed up diagnosis and treatment for women at risk of developing severe complications. We estimate that in 2020/21 PlGF saved approximately 1,149 tonnes of CO2e, equivalent to 3,043,660 miles driven.

Embracing change

Coronavirus has encouraged us all to embrace change. RPM is likely to become a healthcare mainstay in the wake of the pandemic. Not only does it support the delivery of high-quality care to a growing and ageing population, but it can also help reduce carbon emissions, contributing to the NHS net zero target.