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The climate emergency is a health emergency

Written by: Pete Waddingham - 18th February 2021

In today’s blog Pete Waddingham, Programme Manager, talks about the importance of the ‘Green Innovation’ agenda for health and introduces some of the work we have underway to help health innovators and the NHS to reduce their environmental impact. 

It is a real privilege to be able to write a Green innovation blog as part of my role with the Yorkshire & Humber Academic Health Science Network.

Firstly, I want to save some time (your time) by not providing too much context about the role the NHS has to play in our global climate challenge. The more useful thing  I can probably do is encourage you (if not already done so) to read the NHS Net Zero report and quote this very strong message:

The climate emergency is a health emergency. Climate change threatens the foundations of good health, with direct and immediate consequences for our patients, the public and the NHS.

There is probably not anything more powerful than that, that I can say.

I have always tried to have some connectedness to nature and the environment. My interest in sustainability probably started over 20 years ago, having a fascination with Native American Indians, who for many hundreds of years, have always tried to promote being resourceful.  More recently I had the privilege of working for the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust – managing Spurn Point National Nature Reserve; one of the most ecologically sensitive landscapes in the country. This experience cemented even more the importance of landscape, climate change and our health.  Now I have the opportunity to contribute to this agenda through my role with the Yorkshire & Humber AHSN.

For those that do not know, the Yorkshire & Humber AHSN help find and spread innovation amongst the NHS. Green Innovation is one of the many areas we are aiming to support, and this is across three broad areas:

    1. Supporting health innovations that have an environmental positive impact
    2. Supporting innovators to consider environmental sustainability within their work
    3. Identifying innovations/best practice with an impact from other sectors and bring these into the NHS

This is an evolving  journey, but so far we have made some great progress,  building relationships with the Sustainable Development Unit, NHS England & Improvement, our regional ICS partners and our wider AHSN network, and we continue to forge links with other strategic partners across Yorkshire.  All these relationships are fundamental to the spread and adoption of Green Innovation.

We are in the process of trying to help Innovators think about, and quantify, their environmental impact using a carbon calculator. This work resulted from a desire to try and make it as easy as possible for organisations to quantify their carbon impact, so that this information could be readily available to use in any business case or marketing material.

The AHSN Network have also recently become a sponsor of the Green Surgery Challenge, a collaboration between a range of partners including The Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, NIHR MedTech Co-operative in Surgical Technologies and the Royal College of Surgeons, England . This challenge is an opportunity for the UK’s surgical community to find solutions that transform surgical practice to become less harmful to the environment and become more sustainable.

We are also linking with NHS England on the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) UK Make and Innovation Hub which has a focus on Reusable PPE and we continue to provide support to any  organisations, as part of our Industry Innovation support programme, that are suitable to feed into this national work programme and others.

The time for Green Innovation is strong, and many could argue COVID, for its negative impact on human health, may have already brought about some positive environmental change, for example, the greater increase in digital and reduction in travel.

As an environmental optimist, I am confident we can solve many of the health and climate challenges through much of the innovation we have already as a society. This, however, will mean looking across industry, whether that be the food packing industry that is innovating and could have strong benefits for medical consumables, or global logistics companies delivering our shopping which has application for health logistics. The innovation in many areas already exists, the challenges lie in uncovering it and also finding the best way to encourage the spread and adoption. This is where I believe the AHSN network can add most value.

If you would like to connect with the Yorkshire & Humber AHSN on Green Innovation, please contact:

Pete Waddingham (Programme Manager)