One of the main talking points at the COP26 is that bold new climate commitments are required. Global emissions could exceed the internationally agreed 1.5 degrees of global warming stated in the Paris Agreement. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the IPCC Working Group 1 Report was “a code red for humanity”. To prevent this, the UK (and other countries) need to achieve their promised net zero targets.
To help the UK achieve this goal, individuals and organisations need to start looking at the changes they can make. This could be on a personal level, cycling rather than driving to work, or at an industry level, introducing innovative change to help reduce carbon emissions.
We must listen — and we must act — and we must choose wisely. – Antonio Guterres
The NHS is the first national health system to commit to becoming carbon net zero by 2040. However, with the NHS responsible for 5% of all traffic on UK roads, this target may be unachievable. The COVID pandemic has proven that some care can be delivered virtually, as the NHS and social care had to adapt to the struggles of caring for isolating patients. To reduce the amount of NHS cars on the road, some care can be delivered virtually. A recent NHS report has highlighted the successful introduction of virtual appointments in primary care has resulted in better patient journey, saving travel times and costs, and general practices have seen reduced waiting times and improve quality of care through early triage. NHS Lanarkshire saved the equivalent of almost 100 journeys around the earth by switching certain appointments to virtual visits. The benefits of switching some care to virtual, positively impacts the patient, the NHS and reduces carbon emissions, helping to achieve their 2040 target.
The Environmental Audit Committee estimated the cost of health impacts due to air pollution to be between £8 and £20 billion. Exposure to high levels of pollution can increase the risk of respiratory infections, heart disease and lung cancer. Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and costs the NHS England £7.4 billion. Reducing carbon emissions is not only vital to prevent the rise of global warming, but to prevent future generation’s health issues and the cost this will create for the NHS.
The Adult Social Care Industry
The Adult Social Care industry delivers 249 million hours of homecare in England each year. For example, if an average roundtrip for a social worker to deliver 1 hour of care is 10 miles, each year around 1 million tonnes of CO2 is created by social workers. Some local councils have large geographies, therefore travelling between client’s homes could be more than the estimated average 10-mile roundtrip. The cost of this current model of care is the negative environmental and economic impact to the UK. Creating hybrid models of care is the future of adult social care, a mixture of in-person and virtual care, moving away from the unsustainable pathway the industry is currently on. A report showed that half of elderly patients preferred using digital tools to in-person visits, showing that there is a demand and need for virtual care.
People effectively adapted their working days to virtual meetings, seeing the immediate results in increased productivity and reduced travel times, can this be effectively introduced in homecare, social care and the NHS?
Case study: Ethelcare & Scottish Borders
A local council in Scotland, who has a large geographical location, introduced Ethel an innovative virtual care technology that enabled staff to complement some in-person care with virtual support. A vulnerable user needed extra support when their relative passed away and staff were able to virtually visit the user via video calling during their lunch, to ensure they ate, and at night-time to do a ‘tuck-in’ visit. Staff were able to see that the user was healthy, physically and emotionally. This enhanced level of support saved the council around £14,000 a year for one user, it also reduced their carbon emissions as the council reduced travel times by 730 hours a year.
We must act, as an industry, make innovative changes and prevent the devastating effects of global warming for future generations.