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04 October 2019

Bristol hospitals declare climate emergency

Bristol's two NHS hospital trusts have joined the international movement to declare a climate emergency, recognising the impact climate change is having on the world.

Bikes

Staff at South Bristol Communtiy Hospital use electric bikes to visit patients at home.

University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust and North Bristol NHS Trust are among the first NHS organisations in the UK to make the declaration, which shows a clear and positive commitment to tackle climate change and the effects on the health of our population.

With climate change labelled the greatest threat to health in the 21st century[1], a range of conditions related to heat, cold, extreme weather and air pollution are predicted to rise.

To lead the way in healthcare in the city, the two trusts have set ambitious goals to become carbon neutral by 2030.

Harnessing the huge enthusiasm of more than 20,000 staff, the organisations have pledged to take action on:

  • single use plastics, such as in wards, operating theatres and catering;
  • recycling and disposal of waste;
  • greenhouse gas impact of anaesthetics;
  • energy use for heating and lighting;
  • energy from sustainable sources;
  • water use;
  • vehicle emissions from staff and patient travel and goods deliveries;
  • sustainable food sourcing;
  • encouraging staff, patients and local residents to lead greener, healthier lives.

North Bristol NHS Trust Chief Executive Andrea Young said: "The NHS is the biggest organisation and employer in Bristol, and as a major buyer of goods and services, we are uniquely a big part of the problem and of the solution.

"To provide high quality care the NHS uses huge amounts of energy, food, water, medicine and equipment - all of which contribute to our carbon footprint.

"We can also harness the power of thousands of staff who are highly motivated to make a difference and improve people's lives.

"We want to publically acknowledge the huge threat of climate change, do as much as possible to tackle it ourselves and, as anchors in our community, encourage collaborative action."

University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust Chief Executive Robert Woolley said: "Preventing avoidable illness, promoting health and wellbeing and being operationally resilient are all fundamental to the future of the NHS.

"Taking more action now to protect the environment will help us to meet all of these aims, as there is strong evidence about the impact of climate change on health.

"We've set ambitious targets to become carbon neutral by 2030, and are already taking major steps in this area, including investing in more sustainable lighting and heating.

"Lots of our staff are already involved in many ways from taking more sustainable transport options to get to and from work to looking at the changes they can make, however small, to be more environmentally-friendly in their areas of work.

"The quicker we can take action on climate change, the quicker we'll improve the health of people right now as well as for future generations."

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, said: "This is another really exciting step towards building a whole city response to the climate emergency. The commitment from University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust and North Bristol NHS Trust to tackle climate change reflects our One City Plan ambition of creating a carbon neutral and climate resilient city.

"The two Trusts are institutions in the city with large impacts on the environment, and so it's enormously positive they recognise their importance and pledge to take action on this important issue."

Some of the work the hospital trusts have already been doing includes:

  • Reducing use of desflurane, an anaesthetic gas which has a much greater environmental impact than alternative anaesthetics;
  • Reducing car journeys via lift-share, walking and cycle-to-work schemes for staff;
  • Patients being discharged from the Bristol Royal Infirmary and Southmead Hospital at risk of further illness from cold or damp homes will be referred for home energy efficiency measures such as central heating, draught-proofing and insulation;
  • Improvements to lighting and heating to reduce carbon emissions at hospitals run by University Hospitals Bristol;
  • Electric bikes are used by the Early Supported Discharged Team at South Bristol Community Hospital to visit stroke patients across the city and into North Somerset at home to provide therapy;
  • A range of nature initiatives at Southmead Hospital including wildflower planting, bird boxes, ponds, and insect hotels and home-made lavender bags for patients; and
  • Sustainable food at Southmead Hospital including locally-sourced, seasonal food for patients and staff, a weekly organic veg stall open to the public, and staff allotments.

In Bristol around 300 people a year already die early from diseases related to poor air quality[2]. Across England, 863 people died early as a result of the heatwave in summer 2018[3].

The government has set a target for the UK to become carbon neutral by 2050. Bristol City Council has committed to carbon neutrality by 2025 and for the city as a whole to achieve this by 2030 through the One City Plan. These commitments are among the most ambitious targets in Europe and the UK.

Bristol City Council, the West of England Combined Authority, North Somerset Council, South Gloucestershire Council and the University of Bristol have all recently declared a climate emergency. Only two other areas of the NHS have also done so.

Find out more about sustainability at UH Bristol here.


[1] The Lancet and University College London Institute for Global Health, 2009

[2] Air Quality Consultants, Health Impacts of Air Pollution in Bristol, 2017

[3] Public Health England heatwave mortality monitoring, Summer 2018


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