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Climate change: NHS launches campaign to tackle ‘health emergency’

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Air pollution is a major public health challenge Air pollution is a major public health challenge

The NHS will step up action to combat the climate emergency, chief executive Simon Stevens has announced.

The ‘For a greener NHS’ campaign will aim to reduce the health service’s carbon footprint, which contributes 4-5% of the UK’s total output. A key area of this will be efforts to reduce air pollution, which is harmful to both the environment and public health.

Air pollution is linked to killer conditions like heart disease, stroke and lung cancer, contributing to around 36,000 deaths annually. A recent study by Kings College London looking at nine English cities demonstrated that on high pollution days there are 673 additional out-of-hospital cardiac arrests and hospital admissions for stroke and asthma, with spikes in ambulance 999 call outs.

‘With almost 700 people dying potentially avoidable deaths due to air pollution every week we are facing a health emergency as well as a climate emergency. Patients and the public rightly want the NHS to deliver for them today, and to help safeguard the future health of our children and grandchildren,’ said Simon Stevens.

‘While the NHS is already a world leader in sustainability, as the biggest employer in this country comprising nearly a tenth of the UK economy, we’re both part of the problem and part of the solution. Indeed if health services across the world were their own country, they’d be the fifth-largest emitter on the planet. That’s why today we are mobilising our 1.3million staff to take action for a greener NHS, and it’s why we’ll be working with the world’s leading experts to help set a practical, evidence-based and ambitious date for the NHS to reach net zero.’

According to NHS England, the changing climate is leading to more frequent heatwaves and extreme weather events such as flooding, including the potential spread of infectious diseases to the UK. Almost 900 people were killed by last summer’s heatwaves while nearly 18 million patients go to a GP practice in an area that exceeds the World Health Organisation’s air pollution limit.

Scientists believe perhaps a third of new asthma cases might be avoided by cutting emissions while Lyme Disease and encephalitis are among conditions expected to become more common as temperatures rise.

‘The impact of climate change on our health is there for all to see and at the Lancet Countdown, we have amassed the evidence to encourage health systems across the world to take action,’ said Dr Nick Watts, chair of the new NHS Expert Panel on climate change.

‘The NHS in England leads the world in taking action on climate change and improving public health along the way, so I am delighted to have been asked by Sir Simon Stevens to help chart a route to a net zero health service. Everyone who works in healthcare has a responsibility to take action on the health emergency posed by climate change, and I encourage all NHS staff to join the campaign to feed in their ideas and help drive this forward.’

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