Greener AHPs: Our commitment to NHS net zero

In October 2020, the NHS became the world’s first health service to commit to reaching carbon net zero, in response to the profound and growing threat to health posed by climate change.

As Chief Allied Health Professions Officer, I am very proud that in advance of this commitment we, as allied health professionals (AHPs) in England, set out to understand and give direction our role in environmental sustainability.

In 2019, in collaboration with the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (formerly Public Health England), we sought views from the AHP workforce about sustainable health and care, and the opportunities and barriers to delivering this work.

Insights were gathered from across all 14 professions, with responses from the four UK nations encompassing a wide range of different work settings. The results demonstrated that AHPs were already passionate about high quality healthcare that is also sustainable. The thematic analysis of the responses showed five key priority areas for AHPs:

  • Digital healthcare
  • Public health and prevention
  • Food and diet
  • Use of equipment/single use plastics
  • Environmental sustainability literacy

Many of the key areas for change identified are already within AHPs’ scope of practice and clinical influence, such as equipment, models of care and food. Many AHPs already focus on preventative and rehabilitative interventions which keep people healthy and reduce their need to access healthcare services. Examples include supporting patients in self-management, social prescribing, and admissions avoidance, falls prevention and early intervention.

The work of AHPs to support patients and improve health in our communities also reduces carbon emissions. Focus and expertise to measure and evaluate the carbon impact of both current and developing pathways of sustainable AHP care to fully demonstrate the considerable role AHPs play in reducing carbon while improving health, is required.

In February 2021 we began a journey to develop the second AHP strategy for England to succeed AHPs into Action (NHS England, 2017). Uniquely in the development of recent national strategies, this commenced with crowdsourced engagement of the people and communities AHPs serve, with the deliberate intention to understand their perceptions and concerns at the start. Following a rigorous three stage process, with thematic review at each stage, in June 2022, NHS England published The Allied Health Professions (AHPs) strategy for England – AHPs Deliver.

One of the theme areas in the new strategy is environmental sustainability, which underlined our early commitment to the agenda and the importance with which this was seen by those engaging in the strategy development. In line with our strategy and the Delivering a Net Zero NHS report (2020), we as AHPs in England can contribute to the ambition of the NHS reaching net zero.

Climate change undermines the core foundations of good health and action to tackle climate change reduces the burden of disease from air pollution, obesity, and poor diet whilst directly addressing health inequalities experienced across the country. We must think innovatively about how we can reduce the environmental impact of our services, to support better health now and for future generations.

To support a new generation of clinical leaders in environmental sustainability, the Chief Sustainability Officer established a Clinical Fellowship scheme. Managed by Faculty of Medical Leadership & Management (FMLM), the scheme identifies and supports clinicians who present with the clearest potential to develop as clinical leaders and sustainability champions of the future. I was really delighted that Ben Whittaker, an Occupational Therapist, was appointed as the first AHP Clinical Fellow to the Chief Sustainability Officer in 2021-22, working with me on projects aligned to our identified priority areas. I am pleased to provide ongoing support to the AHPs on this scheme in the 2022-23 cohort, helping to embed net zero carbon principles in the delivery of care across the health and care system.

greener ahp hubContributions made on the Greener Allied Health Professional Hub demonstrate that AHPs embrace the net zero agenda. Embracing action across the wider AHP community will ensure we collectively achieve the ambitions set out in our strategy and deliver the triple goal of improving health, saving money, and preserving the planet.

During my virtual conference in June last year, where we launched AHPs Deliver and the new theme areas, including environmental sustainability, AHPs clearly expressed a desire to have more opportunities to share, celebrate and inspire fellow AHPs about the importance of sustainability. We heard this and as a result we are hosting our first ever Greener AHP week to support AHPs to showcase what they have been doing personally and professionally on this important agenda. Encompassing Earth Day, it will run from 17 – 24 April. I am looking forward to hearing and learning from my AHP colleagues sharing their commitments, actions, and the impact they have across health and care services.

It’s been over two years since the NHS became the world’s first health system to commit to delivering a net zero health service. It is heartening to see that our colleagues in the AHP community are continuing to be ambitious in their commitment to this goal. We know that that sustainable healthcare goes hand in hand with high quality healthcare, and that our changing environment has direct and immediate consequences for our patients and communities. I am proud that allied health professionals leading in this space and hope you will join me in celebrating them this Greener AHP Week.

Find out more and join us on social media using #GreenerAHP

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Guest Authorsuzanne-rastrick

Suzanne Rastrick, Chief Allied Health Professions Officer (CAHPO)

Suzanne qualified as an Occupational Therapist from Oxford and was the first Allied Health Professional (AHP) to hold a substantive Director of Nursing post in both provider and commissioning organisations. She became the Chief Executive of a Primary Care Trust, where a particular highlight was having leadership responsibility for delivering health ‘blue light’ services during the Olympic sailing events in 2012.  She subsequently gained authorisation for a large Clinical Commissioning Group, before moving to her current post in 2014 with NHS England as Chief Allied Health Professions Officer for England.