The recent NHS Scotland event in Glasgow saw Professor Sir Gregor Smith outline some key sustainability aims in his Chief Medical Officer Annual Report for 2023.

He said there is now deep recognition of the impact which the environment has on the Scottish population’s health, but also the impact which healthcare can have on the environment as well. 

“This is a public health emergency, make no bones about it,” Professor Smith told attendees.

However, he also said good progress had been made towards NHS Scotland’s zero emissions by 2040 – “an ambitious target but a necessary target,” in his words – and he was delighted to see the enthusiasm of the NHS Scotland workforce in achieving that goal, adding “there is a real opportunity here in the way we promote greener, healthier pathways of care.”

Professor Smith noted Scotland was the first country in Europe to stop the procurement of desflurane, a volatile anaesthetic gas which has a global warming potential 2,500 times greater than carbon dioxide. Work to reduce the environmental impact of medical gases across healthcare services resulted in NHS Scotland winning Health Care Without Harm European Sustainable Healthcare Project of the Year 2023 at the inaugural European Sustainable Healthcare Awards in Berlin. 

The more recently published NHS Scotland – climate emergency and sustainability: annual report 2021 to 2022represents an important document – a roadmap to tangible, meaningful change no less.

It arguably went further than the Chief Medical Officer’s report, insisting that “health organisations have a duty to cut their greenhouse gas emissions” and that “staff must be at the heart of work to achieve a culture of stewardship within NHS Scotland, where resources are safeguarded and responsibly used to provide environmentally sustainable healthcare.”

For NHS partner InnoScot Health, this is the crux of how to meet the challenge.

We want the NHS workforce to be agents of positive environmental change, to become sustainable-minded innovators helping in that collective push towards the 2040 target with successive generations following their example. 

It’s an empowering thought; the ability to change your organisation from the inside out with innovative ideas whilst positively impacting not only patient health, but the health of the wider population too.

The key goals for those forward-thinkers? Lowering greenhouse gas emissions and reducing waste while adapting to climate change by finding better, greener ways of operating, in tandem with transformation that builds towards a more resilient, resource-efficient, cost-effective organisation.

Essentially, it’s about combining green initiatives with high quality care for patients and communities.

Let’s be clear; no solitary solution will achieve Net Zero, but incrementally and with that clear 2040 target to the fore, mould-breaking, innovative thinking can produce the momentum and mindset change needed to get us there.

Great work is underway – the National Green Theatres Programme, led by the Centre for Sustainable Delivery aims to reduce the carbon footprint of theatres across NHS Scotland and enable more environmentally sustainable care. We at InnoScot Health are working with the team to establish a conduit for any innovations that may have a measurable environmental benefit, even if that is not the primary aim. 

Focusing directly on environmental benefit, our sustainability innovation call is designed to encourage and inspire the 160,000-strong NHS Scotland workforce, those that know the challenges best, with an opportunity to innovate and make a vital contribution to Net Zero. It is supported with the expertise of the InnoScot Health team to help translate ideas to viable products or services.

Our diverse mix of health and social care professionals can be key to identifying and acting upon sustainable, progressive ideas that make a significant difference, and we want to help nurture their ambitions. Encouraging staff to come up with new ways of working is vital.

With the right innovation support on hand, it doesn’t have to be a daunting prospect either.

We at InnoScot Health have a strong track record across 20 years in helping to develop and accelerate NHS ideas, simple or complex, into products and services. We work side by side with often time-poor staff to minimise barriers to developing new ideas. 

We passionately believe that innovation which achieves sustainable outcomes can, and should be, entirely complementary to the enduring everyday drive for healthcare excellence.

Our innovation call is open to anyone working across NHS Scotland and offers a package of support to the initial value of £25,000, including IP protection, regulatory support, project management, and extensive innovation expertise.

Ideas fitting the innovation call could range from lower carbon devices, to new greener packaging methods which can be composted or recycled rather than sent to landfill, or equipment that can be sterilised and re-used.

The climate emergency and sustainability annual report concludes that “the people who work within NHS Scotland and use its services have fantastic ideas on how to make the NHS more environmental and socially sustainable.”

Making an environmental impact consistently and at scale across the country is vital in the 75th year of the NHS – let’s grasp the opportunity.