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1 June 2023

Did you know that Cardiff and Vale University Health Board produces an estimated 202,000 tonnes of harmful greenhouse gases each year – the same amount as all the households in Barry combined?

In fact, if the entire global health sector were a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter of carbon (CO2e). The products and services used to deliver healthcare are by far the biggest contributors, making up around 81% of overall emissions within the health board.

Unfortunately, we’re already seeing the impact of the climate crisis here in south Wales, with far wetter periods of weather resulting in terrible flooding and summer temperatures reaching 37 degrees. Without action, ever-higher global temperatures and extreme weather will result in a decline in food availability, heat-related illness and deaths, and damage to our essential infrastructure.

While addressing the climate is a global issue which all countries, organisations and individuals need to act on, as one of the biggest public sector organisations in the UK it’s important the NHS does its bit and take a lead. Extensive work is going on behind the scenes to reduce Cardiff and Vale University Health Board’s carbon emissions, and in March its third decarbonisation action plan - a requirement of every health board in Wales - was approved.

Taking learning from the last few years, it was developed to challenge the way the organisation works, starting from the very top. It recognises that more needs to be done to ensure decisions are made with emission reduction or avoidance in mind.

The report states that the workforce needs to be better educated in how to reduce their carbon footprint and act in least wasteful ways. It also addresses the fact more investment is needed to support walking, cycling and public transport access to our sites, and make our buildings more environmentally efficient.

But the good news is that the steps we take now will also have wider benefits, including cleaner air, a more physically active population and improved mental wellbeing.

It’s fair to say the health board hasn’t stood still on this issue. A lot has been achieved over the last few years to reduce our carbon emissions. This includes:

  • The Estates department installing around 300,000kwh of renewable energy, which is enough to power a house for a century;
  • An estimated 960,000 miles of patient travel saved through the introduction of remote consultations since 2020;
  • Sending no waste to landfill;
  • Turning off almost all of nitrous oxide manifolds in the University Hospital of Wales and University Hospital Llandough, saving more than 500 tonnes of CO2e;
  • Implementing the commitments in the Cardiff Healthy Travel Charter to support sustainable travel to our sites, including opening a new cycle hub at UHW;
  • Various small, but effective, carbon-saving projects by passionate colleagues in dermatology, department of sexual health and others.

“We need to go much further and faster to take the action needed to reduce our emissions,” said health board chair Charles Janczewski and chief executive Suzanne Rankin in a joint statement in the decarbonisation action plan.

“This plan plays a critical role in supporting the organisation improve its infrastructure’s reliance on fossil fuels, as well as seeking efficiencies in the way products are used thus mitigating our impact on the environment.

“Climate change represents a significant risk to the health board and the health of the populations we support, particularly those already marginalised. If reduction action is not delivered across society, we will see increased demand on our services from extreme weather events, more regular adverse business continuity events and increased air pollution, with impacts on respiratory health in particular.”

They added: “We know that this is not a challenge that can be tackled by a few colleagues, but needs everyone to play their part and that is why we are ensuring this plan is owned by the whole health board. We will set the example as a Board and give our colleagues the tools, the space and know how to make a difference.”

It’s also important that the Welsh NHS spends its money, where it can, on supporting local jobs and communities - also known as the ‘foundational economy’. Our procurement colleagues spend around a third of their total spend with suppliers in Wales, nearly £1bn between April 2022 and January 2023.

Employees of the health board can support the transition to a more sustainable, low-carbon environment by undertaking small actions, such as:

  • Switching off lights and equipment when not in use;
  • Increasing use of public or active travel;
  • Recycling wherever possible;
  • Reducing the amount of single use items used and thrown away;
  • Using technology where practical to reduce patient travel.

To read the action plan in full please go here.

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