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The NHS shouldn't cost the Earth

We need to give more thought to how environmentally sustainable the NHS is. Wearing overshoes does not stop us from having a carbon footprint

One of the paradoxes that makes health such a fascinating area to cover is that it is constantly a victim of its own success.  The more we cure, the longer we live, the more complex our morbidities become, and the more the NHS has to do, and the circle continues.

It is a story common to most advanced economies, and in many ways, and it is a nice problem to have. The drawback we most often think of is the cost. And much thought is given to the growing chunk of national wealth consumed by health, and how we can afford it.

But what we need to give more thought to, is how enviromentally sustainable the NHS is. Wearing overshoes does not stop us from having a carbon footprint, and the NHS is responsible for 20 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.  If Nye Bevan was around today, he might worry less about the ‘ceaseless cascade of medicine ouring down the British public’s throats’, and more about the ceaseless cascade of PPE into landfill. Finding the balance between equipping the NHS properly and honouring the UK’s obligation to reduce emissions demands action, so it was good to see Scotland outlaw the anaestethic gas desflurane, which has 2,500 times the impact of CO2, last week.

Closer to home in the primary care field, Lupin’s Luforbec inhaler became the first carbon neutral inhaler to be launched in the UK last year after the manufacturers took steps to offset the emissions involved in its production, use and disposal.

Hopefully we will see an increasing number of these initiatives in the coming years. ‘First, do no harm’ should become a mantra for our planet, as well as our patients.