11th October 2022Building a Partnership Approach to Greening the NHS

A guest article from Dean Rogers, Executive Director of Industrial Strategy and Member Relations, The Society of Radiographers.

Some problems look insurmountable, but we can’t afford to be driven by defeatism. Some problems are so big we all have a duty to step up and try to tackle them together. We should also have learned from the institutional failures of the last 3 decades that we can’t afford to rely on existing system and institutions to provide answers. This isn’t news to the Society of Radiographers, who have been promoting member-centered, partnership problem-solving since our creation just over 100 years ago. Here, I explain how we’re taking this approach to the NHS community, setting out a model for community-based co-operation around greening the NHS that could not only help save our environment and improve public health but also help shift cultures and support partnership working into other public health fields.

The Challenge

We all know a few hard facts about long-term, socio-political priorities. We’re running out of time to tackle climate change and the catastrophic challenges that could bring future generations not too far from now. The problems are happening now, from melting ice caps to chronic asthma and respiratory issues for people in our urban areas. It is a huge irony that as major employers and places to visit, our general hospitals can be hotspots for air pollution; travelling to and from our hospitals is making people ill.

We also know we face a cost-of-living crisis that’s a likely fixture for at least most of the 2020s. A decade of stagnant wages and three decades of promoting personal debt as a way of life have taken people to the economic margins, as highlighted in recent weeks with interest rate rises tipping many working families into financial difficulty.  This is without mentioning self-erected barriers, such as Brexit. The UK already has the lowest growth in the G7. This raises the pressure for greater benefits and support from Government whilst lowering the tax base at the same time.

The mounting crisis was being foretold in the nation’s “favourite child”, the NHS, even before Covid. Britain has been underspending on health and social care for decades. We have the most political funding system in the modern world outside of the US, with all NHS spending coming directly from the taxpayer. Raising spending by enough to meet rising demand, fed by scientific advances, has proved beyond British government certainly since the economic crash of 2008. The NHS was choking on a staffing and funding crisis before Covid and the pandemic now leaves it facing a stark choice…as with climate change, the NHS needs to change its habits or face catastrophe.

Covid has highlighted that we can’t rely on existing institutions to make change for us. The NHS can’t be saved just by Government; it hasn’t got that long. What’s needed is those who care about it to work together on the big questions and start to shift the culture from within. That’s where the SoR’s Green Transport Plan for the NHS starts.

The Start of Change

Modest on the surface but fuelled by high ambitions, we are starting to identify pilots where NHS staff, patient groups and senior local leaders work together to identify ways to make the environment in and around hospitals cleaner and greener; developing modest but achievable joint goals that NHS leaders, in partnership with influential unions, charities, businesses and other civic leaders, can then work to implement, with accountability to the champions who develop and own the report who measure and report on progress, creating a virtuous change cycle.

The reports, captured and published in Green Plans, can celebrate and share successes to spread good practice and counter any fatalism, including highlighting how practical changes can save money and lives.

Transport is a good place to start. Progress has already been made during Covid in many places, from closer liaison between the NHS and local transport planners prompting expanded park and ride schemes, to reductions in numbers being asked to come to hospitals unless necessary, with technology being used for even complex assessments at home. The rise in transport costs give further emphasis to reducing transport pressures in and around our hospitals.

Creative partnerships are possible. Supporting our NHS is popular and good for business so why not sponsor an EV fleet for community-based health staff. Auditing the green cost of keeping diagnostics at acute centres could help release public funds for Community Diagnostic Centres which could rejuvenate High Streets that already have great transport links but lack customers! The ideas will surface, but serious, solution-focused partnership can help test, design, and measure these so they happen and work.

Successful change can help fight off the worst social disease of all, cynicism. Over the coming months, look out for the call for volunteers in an NHS Trust near you

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