Global NHS Suppliers Pledge to Decarbonise Supply Chain by 2045

Becky McCall

November 05, 2021

NHS suppliers pledge to decarbonise the NHS supply chain by 2045, according to an open letter to the 80,000 global NHS suppliers, penned by the International Leadership Group for a net zero NHS.

The pledge supports the aim of the NHS in England to become the world’s first net zero health service. Led by Lord Prior, chairman of NHS England, other signatories include leaders of major NHS suppliers; key trade bodies, The BMJ; the charity the Health Foundation; and EAT - the non-profit science based global platform for food system transformation.

Published as Rapid Response: A commitment to decarbonise by 2045: an open letter to all NHS suppliers on bmj.com, the letter aims to build on the existing commitment of the NHS to reach net zero carbon by 2040 for its own emissions. However, because nearly two-thirds of its carbon footprint reside in its global supply chain, further international buy-in is sought in the letter.

"We understand that taking action on this agenda is complex, not least because our supply chains are global. It will require strong leadership, bold commitments, and a clear roadmap with intermediate targets. But it is critical if we are to support a healthier planet and healthier people," says the letter.

Net Zero

The BMJ as a company has pledged to achieve Net Zero by 2040, by both cutting and offsetting carbon emissions. Dr Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief, and independent member of the International Leadership Group for a Net Zero NHS, lent her support to the letter. "BMJ recognises the urgency with which we have to address climate change for healthier people and a healthier planet, now and in the future. We fully support the NHS in its roadmap to achieving net zero, including its work with suppliers to decarbonise.

"We are committing to net zero publishing by 2040 and we will publish additional regular educational content to guide clinicians and researchers on what they can do to tackle climate change," she added.

NHS Ocean

Dr Richard Hixson, is a consultant in anaesthesia and critical care medicine at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust. He spoke to Medscape News UK, on the subject of decarbonising the NHS supply chain as he came off the stage at the COP26 conference in Glasgow. Dr Hixson co-founded NHS Ocean, a platform set up to safeguard the sustainability of coastal seas and deep oceans. As an NHS doctor, he identified a direct link between human health and ocean health, realising that he was in a unique position to support the NHS in its drive to decarbonise its global supply chain.

Given more than 90% of world trade moves by sea and the NHS is a major user of shipping services, Dr Hixson identified an opportunity to improve the environmental sustainability of shipping’s global supply chains. NHS England has an annual budget around £130 billion and as such it is one of the UK’s largest procurement organisations.

He explained that 80% of NHS goods arrive to the UK on container ships, while 62% of our NHS carbon footprint is due to our supply chain. "NHS net zero says this is our greatest area of challenge but also opportunity. As NHS Ocean, we want to explain to our suppliers and the carriers of NHS goods why they need to care about oceanic health and container shipping. Container shipping impacts on oceanic health and oceanic health impacts on human health. It’s all inter-related."

"If we are to reach net zero in the NHS, then we must care about oceanic health," said Dr Hixson.

He added that the medical ethos of ‘first do no harm’ referred to a direct patient-doctor interface but that it should now extend beyond this to include indirect harm to people and communities via environmental damage.

"Now, because healthcare has gone global in terms of our supply chains, it can no longer be viewed as just a doctor-patient interface. It’s actually far wider-reaching than that," he said, adding that, "if the goods I use to help a patient actually harm coastal communities due to shipping, then I’m still doing harm. It’s about extending 'first do no harm' from patient to planet."

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