University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust and North Bristol NHS Trust are among the first NHS organisations in the UK to declare a climate emergency. They say this will help, in particular, poor air quality in Bristol which causes 300 deaths a year (according to Air Quality Consultants, Health Impacts of Air Pollution in Bristol, 2017).
Now the trusts want to lead the way to improve healthcare for people in the city and have set ambitious goals to become carbon neutral by 2030. Healthwatch supports this commitment to make improvements in this important area which can directly help patient's health and wellbeing. Healthwatch Bristol, North Somerset and South Glos is also trying to reduce its carbon footprint by compressing waste into eco-bricks. We then plan to take this to Bricking It in Bristol which uses these for overseas building projects, a large scale recycling project which is making waves in the city.
With climate change labelled the greatest threat to health in the 21st century a range of conditions related to heat, cold, extreme weather and air pollution are predicted to rise.
The two Bristol Hospital Trusts say they are harnessing the huge enthusiasm of more than 20,000 staff and have pledged to take action on:
- single use plastics, such as in wards, operating theatres and catering;
- recycling and disposal of waste;
- greenhouse gas impact of anaesthetics;
- energy use for heating and lighting;
- energy from sustainable sources;
- water use;
- vehicle emissions from staff and patient travel and goods deliveries;
- sustainable food sourcing;
- encouraging staff, patients and local residents to lead greener, healthier lives.
Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, said: "This is another really exciting step towards building a whole city response to the climate emergency. The commitment from University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust and North Bristol NHS Trust to tackle climate change reflects our One City Plan ambition of creating a carbon neutral and climate resilient city.
"The two Trusts are institutions in the city with large impacts on the environment, and so it's enormously positive they recognise their importance and pledge to take action on this important issue."
Some of the work the hospital trusts have already been doing includes:
- Reducing use of desflurane, an anaesthetic gas which has a much greater environmental impact than alternative anaesthetics;
- Reducing car journeys via lift-share, walking and cycle-to-work schemes for staff;
- Patients being discharged from the Bristol Royal Infirmary and Southmead Hospital at risk of further illness from cold or damp homes will be referred for home energy efficiency measures such as central heating, draught-proofing and insulation;
- Improvements to lighting and heating to reduce carbon emissions at hospitals run by University Hospitals Bristol;
- Electric bikes are used by the Early Supported Discharged Team at South Bristol Community Hospital to visit stroke patients across the city and into North Somerset at home to provide therapy;
- A range of nature initiatives at Southmead Hospital including wildflower planting, bird boxes, ponds, and insect hotels and home-made lavender bags for patients; and
- Sustainable food at Southmead Hospital including locally-sourced, seasonal food for patients and staff, a weekly organic veg stall open to the public, and staff allotments.
The government has set a target for the UK to become carbon neutral by 2050. Bristol City Council has committed to carbon neutrality by 2025 and for the city as a whole to achieve this by 2030 through the One City Plan. These commitments are among the most ambitious targets in Europe and the UK.
Bristol City Council, the West of England Combined Authority, North Somerset Council, South Gloucestershire Council and the University of Bristol have all recently declared a climate emergency. Only two other areas of the NHS have also done so.