The health service has a responsibility towards patients to reduce its own carbon footprint and strive for net zero emissions, if it is to take a leading role in combating the harmful health effects of climate change, the British Medical Association (BMA) has warned.
The union has published a new paper, which suggests nine steps to make the NHS a less carbon-intensive system.
These include recommending that all trusts and health boards publish reports on their carbon footprints and establish targets for reducing single-use plastic and increasing use of reusable medical equipment.
It further adds that trusts should target more of their capital funding towards improving the environmental efficiency and sustainability of their estates, and to appoint sustainability champions to empower and support staff into making sustainable choices.
The report also urges the government to introduce dedicated funding to support NHS sites in introducing electric vehicles.
The BMA points out that with the NHS contributing up to 5% of the UK’s total carbon emissions, increased sustainability and changes to working practices are vital if the health of future generations is to be protected.
It adds that failure to take action now could see an additional 250,000 deaths a year globally between 2030 and 2050 due to rising sea levels and global temperatures which in turn could result in flooding, famine, displacement of populations and spread of infectious disease.
“We can already see the health impacts of climate change and pollutants on a local level, with around 40,000 deaths directly attributed to air pollution in the UK alone,” the report stated.
A 2019 survey of BMA members found that 87 per cent were concerned by the threat climate change poses to public health, while 83 per cent expressed fears about the impact of air pollution.