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Moving towards long-term sustainability in health and care

The visit to the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare really got me thinking about the opportunities for the allied health professions to become increasingly involved in contributing to the delivery of the NHS reducing its footprint. I was amazed and a bit shocked to hear how significant the NHS’ carbon footprint is in England, but of course with that comes a huge opportunity for us to improve.

As we are all working towards sustaining services through the emerging COVID-19 situation, I was reminded of some work I did some years ago. I was supporting a movement to introduce digital solutions for delivery of care; video consultations. We know that shifting to digital consultations, where appropriate, is as much a cultural behavioural shift as a technical one. To bridge this gap and build confidence with clinicians, I was supporting teams to reduce their travel for organisational team meetings. We costed a single meeting between four of us that we held by Skype rather than in person and evaluated the savings. They were approximately £45 in saved expense claims and 3.5 hours of dead driving time released. And we all assessed the meeting as being effective in achieving what was needed; quality, effectiveness, savings all achieved. However, we didn’t think about the carbon footprint which I now know that would have been approximately 16kgCO2e in reduced emissions.

When we are supporting patients to get home sooner from hospital we don’t often recognise the positive carbon footprint of this activity

In the same way, when we are supporting patients to get home sooner from hospital we don’t often recognise the positive carbon footprint of this activity. After the visit, I know that the benefits are 37.9kgCO2e per bed day in a low-intensity ward, rising to 89.5 mkgCO2e in a high intensity ward. University Hospital Southampton physiotherapy team have done an amazing job supporting early mobilisation in the ICU, reducing ventilation days by four days and delivering an impressive 48.5 tonnes CO2e over two years. Patients having more autonomy, happier staff, quicker discharge home also evidenced. So many of the AHP-led rehabilitation and recovery strategies also deliver a reduction in carbon footprint. Who knew?

AHPs have such a huge contribution to make to personalised care, rehabilitation, and recovery-focussed activity, just think what our leadership for improved sustainability could potentially achieve? Today’s visit has really sparked off my thinking about the numerous ways the AHP community can enable reductions in the carbon footprints of care pathways. Taking care of the planet alongside taking care of people and populations.

The National Leadership team for AHPs in England want to support AHPs to recognise their sustainability opportunities and deliver their improvements. My colleague, Linda Hindle, Deputy Chief Allied Health Professions Officer in Public Health England will be leading the development of our work such that AHPs become increasingly part of the solution for NHS sustainability.

Are you doing something great in this area? Could you help? If so we’d love to hear from you;  please get in touch with either or myself

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