UCLH declares a climate and health emergency

UCLH is making a firm commitment to reduce its impact on the environment with a 10-point plan to reach net zero carbon dioxide emissions in 10 years. To galvanise action, UCLH is also declaring a climate and health emergency.

This builds on progress made since UCLH’s Green Plan was put in place in 2020. The plan has seen investment of more than £2.5m in a programme to:

  • install low energy LED lights
  • switch to sustainable electricity and recycled paper
  • reduce patient journeys by 50 per cent
  • reduce the use of the most harmful anaesthetic gas by 90 per cent
  • engage staff to take part in climate action schemes.

With support from Global Action Plan and Camden Council, UCLH is also working to improve air quality by holding workshops with staff to promote green travel, such as using public transport and walking or cycling rather than driving.

Initiatives include our recent pedometer challenge which had a specific focus on promoting green and active travel amongst our staff. UCLH has also set up a bike user group to promote cycling. The group holds regular free bike check sessions and highlights safe cycling storage facilities.

UCLH will be regularly surveying staff to ensure more are cycling, walking, or using public transport and fewer are relying on private cars for their commute. UCLH has recently signed up to two programmes which reward staff for taking part in green initiatives. So far 17 teams have signed up, and we are aiming to increase this with added engagement.

The 10-point plan commits UCLH to cutting energy emissions by 80 per cent by 2025. UCLH will achieve this by only using renewable electricity, and we have switched our energy provider to sustainable company Haven Power. We are installing solar panels throughout our hospitals, and we have installed LED lights at five sites with more sites to follow in the coming months. The new lighting uses 70 per cent less energy than our current lights, meaning we are already saving more than 1,200 tonnes of CO2 every year.

The pandemic has shown that virtual appointments work well in many situations and patient feedback has been positive. Video and telephone clinics have halved patient travel rates, saving more than 14 million miles of travel a year. UCLH is actively looking at continuing its video clinics and our ambition is to maintain 50 per cent of appointments taking place virtually.

The worst offending greenhouse gases in anaesthetics, particularly Desflurane, will no longer be used and the use of lower footprint intravenous anaesthetics will be increased to move away from inhaled gases.

UCLH is cutting down the amount of plastics in use at the hospital, including encouraging patients and staff to stop using polystyrene cups and instead bring in reusable ones. Two wards are leading the way. Previously, the team at University College Hospital was ordering 2,000 polystyrene cups per month, but the order has now been replaced by 1,000 paper cups with the ambition to further decrease this. Queen Square ITU is also supporting the campaign, starting with plastic free Wednesdays when polystyrene cups and cutlery were made difficult to find to encourage staff to locate reusable alternatives and now stopping their use completely except for a small order to cover patients’ and visitors’ needs.

Tiger waste bags have been brought in to reduce the amount of incinerated clinical waste. Incinerating waste can release harmful pollutants into the air. The tiger bags are for offensive waste, which is non-infectious waste such as sanitary pads, nappies and incontinence pads. Previously, this was disposed with clinical waste which is incinerated, but by separating the waste in this fashion we can decrease the amount of burnt waste. The sacks were introduced in January, and this has already seen the amount of clinical waste cut by 20 per cent.

Procurement will be focused on buying green, with all procurement to include a 10 per cent weighting to sustainability.

UCLH’s service partner Mitie is supporting the vision to improve recycling by installing new equipment, changing their waste management contractor, increasing communication about correct waste streams and organising joint waste road shows. This has caused better recycling rates, with a dramatic increase of mixed recycling from 38 per cent to 49 per cent in three months last year. Our general domestic waste over the same period has also decreased significantly and we have achieved zero to landfill status in the last financial year. UCLH is well on course to hit its current recycling target of 80 per cent by 2025. There is also no longer the option for staff to buy non-recycled paper. Previously, UCLH was using 7,000 boxes of paper a year and switching to recycled paper is saving 272 trees per year.

The plan also includes UCLH’s move to create the first net zero hospital and sets a clear ambition to be net zero carbon in ten years.

Luke O’Shea, UCLH director of innovation, said: “The climate is changing and sadly time is running out to act. It is staggering to think that 19 of the last 20 years have been the hottest on record. The NHS creates 40 per cent of public sector emissions, five per cent of the UK total. Spurred on by the NHS’s drive to reach a net zero target by 2040 and an 80 per cent reduction by 2028 to 2032, we at UCLH have a plan, but will go further and faster, aiming to be net zero within ten years – by 2031.”

To mark the announcement, UCLH Arts and Heritage has partnered with the Healthcare Arts Collective on the forthcoming exhibition ‘Health and the Climate and Ecological Emergency’. The collective is a small group of doctors drawn together by a shared concern about the planetary crisis. The exhibition will examine the link between health and the climate crisis. 

The exhibition will be available virtually from 24 August to 20 October. There will also be a series of online events exploring themes including Sustainability in the NHS and Connecting with Nature. Register for these free events here.

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