Sustainable Procurement and Supply Chain Health Lead, Deloitte
UK and North South Europe Health and Social Care Sector Leader, Deloitte
Collaboration is key to reducing carbon emissions, meeting net zero goals and delivering sustainable healthcare.
Health services deliver enormous positive contributions to society in improving the health of the nation but, in doing so, are major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.
The NHS contributes 4-5% of the UK’s total emissions, leading it to set ambitious targets and introduce initiatives to dramatically reduce its environmental footprint and reach net zero by 2045.
However, while recognising the considerable progress that has been made to date, there are a number of key components required to reach these goals by the set deadline.
Towards a sustainable healthcare vision
Will Saddington, who specialises in helping healthcare providers address environmental challenges, says the sector is becoming clearer on its sustainable healthcare vision with ambitions for decarbonisation, social justice, supplier diversity and health equity.
“Sustainable healthcare is about delivering quality care without harming the environment while having a positive social impact,” he says. “You can’t have healthy people without a healthy planet.”
Three core principles of intervention, he adds, are: mitigating the impact healthcare has on climate; making healthcare systems more resilient to climate change through adaptation; and increasing access and health equity.
To achieve net zero Saddington says the NHS acknowledges it should include all personnel in the process, from front-office to back-office, as well as suppliers and other industry influencers.
High impact changes
There are a number of cross-cutting themes for the NHS to prioritise including digitalisation, green skills, circularity, radical collaboration and major programme thinking. However, one significant functional driver is procurement, with the NHS Supply Chain having a crucial role in developing a greener NHS that is both sustainable and resilient.
The Evergreen sustainable supplier assessment framework formulates how suppliers should engage with the NHS to meet the requirements of the NHS net zero supplier roadmap. The roadmap contains bold and ambitious statements for changing the whole ecosystem; with the Greener NHS initiative requiring procurement teams to drive this change.
Saddington, who leads sustainable procurement and supply chain health at Deloitte, says the NHS has significant traction with suppliers as a major spender across a range of areas from IT and office equipment to clinical consumables and major construction projects.
The NHS is enormously well-placed to have meaningful engagement and establish action-based collaborations with suppliers and trade bodies about mitigating environmental impact, with the emphasis shifting from cost and quality alone to include product-specific environmental and social factors.
Sustainable healthcare is about delivering quality care without harming the environment.Will Saddington
Co-benefits of going virtual
Digital technology can empower communities that otherwise lack adequate access to healthcare systems.
Sara Siegel, Health and Social Care Sector Leader at Deloitte, explains that the company works with healthcare teams to mitigate negative environmental and social impacts through positive transformation.
Siegel, who emphasises that Deloitte is committed to net zero in its own practices, says the value of virtual GP appointments became apparent during the pandemic, with patients and clinicians saving travel time and cutting emissions.
“There are millions of outpatient appointments a year that could be made virtual, and it is digitisation that allows us to do that because all images and records are shared electronically,” she says.
Diversity of thought and actions
Although the climate crisis is generally perceived as an issue of environment, the impacts of the changing climate are having an increasingly acute impact on both human health and the business operations of the NHS. The fact that 3.5% of UK road travel is attributable to the NHS, and one in eight deaths in Europe relate to pollution, “shows the enormity of the challenge,” says Saddington.
Tackling these sustainability challenges will require a concerted effort with stakeholders committing to adopting sustainability as a guiding principle. Through partnerships and collaboration, industry can work towards actionable goals to ensure outcomes and impacts are deliverable. Bringing together a diversity of ideas, experience, and skills will help deliver practical, tested solutions that will ultimately help clinicians, patients and the planet.