Ed Davey, The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, visits CSH
When we asked whom Ed worked with in the Department of Health his honest reply was that Health was not a department that he frequently links with because there are so many others. The policy of the government at present is to concentrate on directly cleaning up the sources of energy emissions as a priority as well as beginning to tackle the housing stock via the Green Deal, while delaying work on what they admit are important but longer term issues such as wide scale reduction in demand and greener technologies for aeroplanes.
Among ideas that came out of wide-ranging discussions were that because energy and climate change are important to everyone there should be more emphasis on working across government departments.
The negative impacts of air pollution and other environmental degredation have direct consequences for health and we can put a pound sign against these, which is one way to look at the links between health and environment (see HEAL 'The Unpaid Health Bill: How coal power plants make us sick'). But this is to see our health as passive litmus paper for 'a big problem out there'. It is much more than that.
As healthcare is the largest employer in this country, with a turnover of £126 Billion which contributes a huge proportion of carbon emissions, we hope that Ed, and DECC will begin to look at healthcare as an important industry - worth speaking to because of sheer size, and a big energy user. Perhaps more importantly, particularly because of the direct links between health and environment, healthcare is also in a crucial position to engage its 1.7 million strong workforce with the urgency of embracing sustainability into its core business and from there spreading messages to the wider public about the co-benefits of healthy living and a better environment. The NHS Sustainable Development Unit, The Centre for Sustainable Healthcare and the Climate and Health Council are three of the organisations working in this field and all have people who would be happy to work with DECC and DH on this interface.
The UK has taken a leading role in the world in setting the ambitious target to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, and we can also be a world leader in sustainable healthcare in terms of research, standards and re-designing models of care which are fit for the future. Our conference on Pathways to Sustainable Healthcare in September this year will showcase some of the great work happening in this area and show how industry, healthcare professionals, managers and resarchers are collaborating with sustainability experts to develop innovative and sustainable solutions for healthcare.