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Health service commits to sustainability

All health organisations will be encouraged to produce sustainable development strategies, to try to cut the sector’s huge carbon footprint, the sectors’ chief officers have said.

The new strategy Sustainable, Resilient, Healthy People & Places covers the NHS, public health – which last year transferred to local government – and social care.

NHS England and Public Health England said following it could bring savings of millions of pounds, by reducing carbon emissions, protecting natural resources, and promoting healthy lifestyles and environments.

The new strategy includes the first calculation of the carbon footprint of the whole NHS, public health and social care system, estimated at 32m tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, representing 40% of public sector emissions in England.

NHS England chief executive Sir David Nicholson said: “We are extremely pleased that for the first time the health and care system is pulling together to address our major sustainability challenges such as climate change, pollution and adverse weather events.

“Excellent work is already being done across the country which shows sustainability is effective and can impact directly on clinical care and we want to harness their innovation and build on it.”

Sir David said the NHS would use its buying power to “ensure that medical devices and other products are developed in ways which are ethical and environmentally friendly”.

David Pencheon, director of the NHS sustainable development unit, told MRW that the strategy made little direct mention of recycling because the service’s earlier carbon reduction strategy had succeeded in “making that a critical part of our work and procurement”.

He said there had been notable successes in recycling inhalers and some other medical devise.

But Mr Pencheon noted: “Our first duty is to the patient to get the right medication and help and we have to think about that rather than the long-term consequences [for sustainability].”

He admitted to having worried that NHS clinical commissioning groups – the new bodies taking over its local services - would give little attention to sustainability given the other demands on their resources.

“But I need not have, because they have been coming to our door saying they want help to make sustainability a core value for their work”.

The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management last week published guidance on how to perform audits of healthcare waste.

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