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We’re working with the NHS on their Net Zero pledge

Kay Boycott, Chief Executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, is part of the NHS Net Zero panel of experts. Here she shares her thoughts on the importance of this pledge and their recent report, including the areas where she believes they could go further.

Our work at both Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation seeks to help those with lung conditions, and the whole UK population, improve their lung health and breathe cleaner air. I am delighted to be on the NHS Net Zero expert panel and to advise on this report. I see part of my role on the panel as championing the patient voice. This will not only help the NHS reach their clean air targets, but also to make sure patients continue to get the best care possible throughout the transition.

What is the NHS Net Zero pledge?

The health and care system in England is responsible for an estimated 4-5% of the country’s carbon footprint. As a comparison, the UK’s power stations account for around 16% of the country’s carbon footprint.

As a part of the UK government’s commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2040/45, the NHS is taking action to reduce their emissions. The expert panel I am part of seeks to advise the NHS on ambitious, yet realistic targets for reducing their footprint and the main areas to tackle, whilst making sure patient care isn’t affected.

The sorts of measures include encouraging people to use more environmentally friendly transport when attending NHS appointments, or eliminating the need to travel altogether through virtual appointments. There are also initiatives looking at making buildings more environmentally sustainable and at making the supply chain greener.

Why is this important for people with lung conditions?

We know that impacts and causes of climate change harm people with a lung condition. Not only can dangerous levels of air pollution harm our lungs, but also extremes of heat and cold (of which climate change will cause more) can trigger a flare up or attack. So it’s right that the NHS leads the way in trying to solve climate change as this will improve our lung health.

Also of particular interest to people with lung conditions is the desire to move to greener inhalers, as some release chemicals into the atmosphere. Considering how this can be done safely, and without affecting patient care, has been something I’ve particularly focused on.

The latest report is a huge step forward

This latest Net Zero NHS report is a huge step forward, representing a serious ambition to reduce carbon emissions and pollution across the NHS. It covers the right areas, but inevitably there is a lot of detail to be worked out. The NHS need to meet these targets and maximise reductions in pollution, whilst continuing to offer the best possible patient care. Over time, Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation would like to see the plans going further still.

What more could be considered?

Here are some of the areas of their report where I feel more can still be done:

Inhalers – I’m so pleased that it has been accepted by the Panel that the switch to lower carbon inhalers will be done while respecting patient choice. With decision making being between the individual patient and their health care provider, rather than any crude policy or incentives. This needs to be reflected in the guidance going out to GPs. They will also need clear guidance on how to approach any medication switch and how to have this conversation with patients to ensure it is a shared decision.

Virtual care and reducing patient travel time – moving to virtual and remote care during the pandemic has worked well for many patients. However, we still need to evaluate what does and doesn’t work, to build on the successes but also ensure all patients get the care that is right for them. This includes speedy and easy access to face to face appointments or tests where necessary.

Easier transport links, less vehicles on the road – there is so much scope for the NHS to lead the way in calling for improved transport links to hospitals, encouraging staff to walk and cycle and disincentivising vehicles around hospitals. This report needs to look beyond low emissions ambulances, as these are important, but there are many more options to be considered as detailed local plans are worked through. 

We’ll continue to work with the NHS

Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation will continue to push for the strongest targets possible so that people can breathe cleaner air sooner. This will include also making sure patient care isn’t hindered in any way by these changes. From my experience of the panel I believe it is possible to tackle our climate crisis and improve patient care. Not only can the two can work together, they can both be changed for the better and I hope this report is a step towards making this a reality.

You can read the full Net Zero report here

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1 October 2020