Associate feature: COP26 lays down Scottish healthcare challenge to reduce carbon while improving patient outcomes
Following the COP26 conference in Glasgow, the spotlight has fallen on sustainable, forward-thinking, indigenous innovation that can help Scottish organisations to adapt, develop and strengthen in response to climate change.
The need for a more sustainably-focussed health care system has never been clearer. Climate change continues to result in poorer health for the Scottish populace – indeed, there are around 2,000 premature deaths each year in Scotland due to poor air quality.
At the same time, NHS Scotland consumes huge amounts of resources and produces significant volumes of waste. That is why it has committed to becoming a 'net-zero' greenhouse gas emissions organisation by 2045 at the latest.
The change process is already in motion. Orkney’s Balfour Hospital – the country’s first to be built to a net-zero standard – opened in 2019 with the running of the building contributing no carbon emissions thanks to air-to-water heat pumps generating all of its hot water and heating. Furthermore, solar roof panels reduce its reliance on the grid.
Balfour Hospital is just one positive example, but health boards which successfully identify solutions to climate change can help protect their populations and make a substantial contribution to reducing national and global emissions.
Improving operational efficiency from both a carbon and cost perspective while also maintaining, or ideally, improving the quality of care received by patients, is the NHS ambition.
So, how can all of this be achieved? Whilst long-term strategic projects such as net-zero hospital builds, improved maintenance of existing buildings, and changes to transport and energy use that are already underway, these are only a few pieces in a much larger puzzle.
The behaviours of NHS Scotland’s 160,000-strong workforce will influence how the service mitigates and adapts to climate change impacts. Encouraging this diverse workforce to come up with new and more sustainable ways of working is at the heart of the latest Scottish Health Innovations Ltd (SHIL) innovation call.
This will see a package of financial and project support being made available for health and social care staff with green ideas that can be developed into commercial products.
Ideas fitting the green and sustainable theme may range from multiplex, or lower carbon devices, to new greener packaging methods which can be composted or recycled rather than sent to landfill. New surgical equipment could incorporate plant-based sutures or dressings.
Alternatively, digital technology solutions might help reduce patient journey requirements – there is really no limit.
Over 2,000 innovative ideas from within NHS Scotland have been assessed by SHIL resulting in the successful development and commercialisation of a range of medical devices, products and technologies, formation of seven spin-outs, negotiation of more than 25 UK and international commercial licence deals, and protection of over 250 NHS inventions.
All ideas submitted will be rapidly assessed and the support package includes up to £25,000 of initial funding, regulatory assistance, project management, and extensive innovation expertise.
If any great, green ideas achieve adoption then NHS Scotland will have taken a significant stride towards offsetting its net zero target while meaningfully underlining its ambition of becoming a world-leading sustainable healthcare provider.
Graham Watson, Executive Chairman of SHIL, said: “The net zero emissions target poses a key healthcare challenge, but we are in no doubt that it can be achieved. That’s why our sustainability call is so important at this time. Not just because COP26 recently took place in Glasgow, but also because NHS Scotland’s strides towards net zero can improve vital patient care, while achieving major lasting environmental and financial benefits too. A greener health service that responds to environmental risks and meaningfully changes the way it operates is a better health service.”
SHIL’s Head of Innovation, Robert Rea said: “We are already seeing individuals and teams across NHS Scotland proactively pulling together on a daily basis, helping to drive better, greener care and realising savings too – but we are certain there is much, much more to come, starting with this sustainability call.”
Jane Hopton, Programme Director and Sustainability Lead at NHS Lothian said: “Climate change represents the biggest risk to health of the 21st century. Health services will need to respond to the challenge by reducing their environmental impact and developing greener and more environmentally sustainable models of care. SHIL will accelerate getting these ideas into practice. NHS Lothian welcomes and supports this call.”
Martin Hill of NHS Lothian said: “As Vice Chair of NHS Lothian, a member of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) board, and a founding Trustee of Climate Action Strathaven, I am very proud of what NHS Lothian has achieved over recent times to raise the profile and understanding of what climate change and sustainability mean in the context of our health services and systems.
“We have to up our game in the NHS and that means doing even more to engage our staff, suppliers and patients to reimagine what health services and pathways of care could look like in a sustainable and green world - and then to deliver it.”
Visit www.shil.co.uk/sustainability for full information.
This article was sponsored by the Scottish Health Innovations.