Northumbria Healthcare’s efforts to reduce its impact on the environment are long-standing goals, with the trust first appointing an energy and sustainability officer back in 2007. However, this commitment to sustainability was refreshed in 2021 with the launch of Our Community Promise, which has Action on Environment as one of its six key pillars.
This came in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, which challenged NHS organisations and our populations as never before, and much attention has focused on managing and now recovering from its impact. But among new pressures like this come opportunities to work in new ways, with an appreciation as to how we can address major problems by coming together and focusing our attention.
Despite the difficulties of the pandemic, which continue to impact on healthcare delivery, the trust is fully conscious that we must not ignore the even bigger challenge of climate change. The environmental change taking place now, and in the future will be the biggest global health threat of the twenty-first century.
Human activity is the primary cause of the changes in the earth’s climate conditions. Humanity has produced and consumed vast quantities of fossil fuels, increased the amount of waste produced, and depleted the planet's natural resources, animal habitats and species.
There are four main environmental stressors from which adverse health effects might originate due to a changing climate: rising temperatures (global warming), extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Action on Environment is at the heart of Our Community Promise, demonstrating that sustainability and environmental improvements are a key priority in all that we do. By implementing actions that bring about real change, we will not only help improve and restore our natural environment, but we will also address important drivers of health, addressing areas such as air pollution, which can have a huge and detrimental impact on long-term health.
Northumbria Healthcare’s sustainability plan is based on three main themes – waste; energy; travel and transport. Using key data, the trust is developing an in-depth and informed picture of where emissions come from, providing strategic focus and developing a pathway towards a carbon-neutral future.
Running alongside this are innovations being driven by clinical leaders in areas such as theatres, critical care, endoscopy, maternity, pharmacy and radiology.
The recently opened state-of-the-art centre for sterilising medical equipment on the Northumbria hospital site in Cramlington is a net-zero development, powered by green energy. The new facility is far more efficient, reducing the use of water and electricity, and supporting the delivery of carbon emission reductions.
A major project is also underway at North Tyneside General Hospital, with the aim of reducing emissions by a massive 80% over a 15-year period. The scheme will see the replacement of steam systems, which provide heating to the hospital with a low carbon heating alternative, alongside a range of other low carbon and energy-saving improvements, demonstrating concrete and meaningful action, delivering environmental improvements, carbon emission reductions, supporting a brighter and healthier future for all.
Northumbria Healthcare has also invested heavily in the transition towards more sustainable forms of transport. The trust has been using electric vans for deliveries since 2015, with ongoing investment taking place to support the continued expansion of the EV charging infrastructure. The trust’s electric vehicle charging point programme, which began in 2012, was highlighted in Delivering a ‘Net Zero’ National Health Service, the national report launched in autumn 2020. There are now 79 chargers installed across nine sites, including 12 fast and two rapid chargers.
Other areas of delivery
- Mask recycling – The trust has installed a machine which melts the masks down into plastic blocks which can then be used to make new products, such as chairs, kidney trays, bins and containers. It also recycles curtains, drapes and wraps, all of which are made from single-use polypropylene plastics.
- Faculty of Sustainable Healthcare – Our clinical lead for sustainability Elaine Winkley was behind the creation of what is the first regional faculty dedicated to environmental sustainability in healthcare, run by HEE NE.
- Reusable theatre caps – The trust has introduced personalised, reusable theatre hats, which help ensure people’s names are obvious to other staff and patients, but are also more environmentally friendly and produced in our manufacturing hub.
- Sustainable endoscopy – The endoscopy team has launched a major drive to reduce its impact, with a major focus on waste.
- Dropping desflurane – The anaesthetic department has stopped using desflurane, which is more than 2,500 times more warming than carbon dioxide – an hour of use is equivalent to driving 200-400km in a car. It has also reduced costs.
- Green Champions – Dozens of staff have volunteered for this scheme to support the sustainability efforts by helping to promote campaigns and events, encouraging colleagues to take part, and obtaining feedback and suggestions from staff.