We're improving healthcare with a Greener NHS
Climate change poses a major threat to NHS staff, patients and their communities. This is because there is a direct link between the health of our planet and the health of our people. The NHS is acting to reduce the harmful gases it puts into the atmosphere. Fewer emissions will mean fewer patients with asthma, heart disease, and cancer. It will also reduce any disruption to the delivery of the care we provide.
Since 2010, efforts across the health service have resulted in NHS emissions being cut by 30%. This is already improving care, as well as the health and wellbeing of our patients. Decisions have been made to invest in greener medicines, greener transport, greener buildings, and greener energy consumption.
Despite this progress, there is still more to be done. Together, with the help of staff across the NHS, we hope to achieve even more. With more people involved, we stand every chance of meeting our target of becoming a net zero health service by 2040. We were the first health service in the world to make the commitment and intend to be the first to reach that status.
Everyone can do their bit. No matter how small. The more of us who introduce small actions into our everyday routines, the more we can lessen our impact on the environment, and the more we can improve health.
In Birmingham and Solihull, we have joined with all of our health and social care partners to renew our local commitment to making our NHS greener and more sustainable. Work is ongoing across the system, from our acute trusts to individual GP practices, and we hope this work will contribute to the delivery of long-term positive change for the planet and the health of its people.
Inhalers and the environment
In order to protect the environment, the NHS has committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2040 and Birmingham and Solihull Integrated Care System has pledged to support this target.
Medicines and medical devices represent around a quarter of the NHS's carbon footprint with one type of inhaler, the pressurised metered dose inhaler (pMDI), accounting for 3% of NHS carbon emissions.
pMDIs contain propellants called hydrofluorocarbons, which help deliver the medicine from the inhaler to the lungs. Hydrofluorocarbons are powerful greenhouse gases and contribute to global warming. Using 5 doses (10 puffs) from a pMDI has the same carbon footprint as an average journey (9-miles) in a typical car.
The good news is that there are alternative inhaler devices, such as dry powder inhalers, that do not contain hydrofluorocarbons. This means they have a much lower carbon footprint and are more environmentally friendly. For most people, either type of inhaler is equally effective.
Across Birmingham and Solihull we have committed to halving the carbon impact of inhalers by 2028.
What you can do to help
If you use a pMDI please continue to use your inhaler as prescribed. You may not be sure which type of inhaler you use and not everyone using a pMDI will be able to change to an alternative. If you are interested in the possibility of changing your inhaler to a more environmentally friendly option, discuss this with a healthcare professional at your next routine review.
You may be invited by your GP surgery to discuss potential changes to your inhaler device.
Used pMDIs still contain some hydrofluorocarbons that can contribute to global warming. All inhalers, including used pMDI canisters, should be returned to any pharmacy for disposal in an environmentally safe way.
Doing our bit – Bartley Green Medical Practice
For a long time, we have been recycling both non-confidential paper and cardboard, utilising the local council’s recycling bins. Confidential paper waste is disposed of in a locked shred-all box, which is then collected and taken away by a contracted company to be shredded and recycled as appropriate.
Staff at the practice also collect stamps, which are sent off to various charities for them to sell – even the ordinary ones can make money!
More recently, our GPs have been cycling into work, which is not only beneficial to the environment but also helps to destress and practice mindfulness at the end of the day. Many of our home visits can either be done by bike or on foot, both of which are great ways of getting out into the community, and will hopefully help to lead by example. Patients are often surprised to see us turning up in a fluorescent jacket on a home visit, and it is definitely a talking point!
- National Greener NHS website
- Greener Practice: engaging General Practice in actions for the health of patients and planet
- BMJ: Why I am a green GP blog
- RCGP: Sustainable development, climate change and green issues
- General practice non-clinical carbon calculator