Mar 23, 2023
In today’s podcast, Nick Watts - chief sustainability officer at the NHS speaks about why - when the NHS says there are three things they want to implement over the next decade - their response to climate change is number two.
Watts explains that they understand the health implications of a rise in temperatures, they understand that it means a doubling of the number of high risk health facilities in flood zones, and a tripling of the average duration of fatal heatwaves and notes that they saw what that looks like for our healthcare system.
He talks about how while the average across a summer the UK face 2200-2400 excess deaths from heatwaves; the recent six-day heatwave saw 12800 deaths – six times the usual amount. That’s why the NHS cares deeply about this.
If the climate crisis is a healthcare crisis, Watts says that it’s important to face it head on. Principally, he says, acute care is responsible for the NHS’s emissions, while primary care also comes in strong due to its prescriptions and medicines.
He discusses how in order to cultivate real change, you don’t just run at one small part – turning off the lights and turning the temperature down simply isn’t enough - you need look at every single emission you can possibly think of. For the NHS it means net zero by 2045.
NHS reports publicly to both their board and 1.4million NHS professionals every single year. Watts says that it hit first year emissions target; he promises they’re going to hit their second. It will, however, start getting hard to hit their targets from year 5 onwards.
Transparency is critical. Milestones and scope need to be clear.
Watts explains that from 2027 onwards the NHS will no longer purchase from anyone that does not meet or exceed their commitments to net zero.
He says that while the NHS will do absolutely everything in their power, they can’t run at this alone. The challenge is too big, medicine is too complex. Thankfully the NHS isn’t alone. 14 other countries followed suit in committing to reaching net zero.
To end, Watts insists that it’s when other people take note, start taking this seriously, and when other healthcare systems start to engage that net zero stops becoming possible, and starts to become inevitable.