Securing healthy returns: linking environmental and efficiency savings in the NHS


The new publication Securing Healthy Returns points to the possibility of a win-win-win scenario: the key actions to implement sustainable development management plans promise not only environmental benefit, but also financial savings and a contribution to improving health. There is also a good fit with the best possible value decision-making framework of the Future-Focused Finance initiative and with the requirement of the sustainability and transformation plans.

The report, published jointly by Public Health England, the NHS, CIPFA and the HFMA, includes a list of the 35 interventions which promise to deliver most, assessing that by 2020 full implementation would reduce carbon emissions by over a million tonnes and spending by over £0.4m. The medical benefits arise from actions which will, for example, reduce travel, speed up assessment times, improve patient adherence to prescriptions, and increase the efficiency of operating theatres.

For example, in the UK there are in the region of 40,000 excess deaths per year from air quality (PM2.5 and NOx) related illness. This is mostly down to urban traffic related air pollution. The movement of health sector staff, patients and visitors is estimated to be responsible for between 5% and 8% of all UK road traffic and substantially more if including health supply chain and logistics. Various measures can reduce staff travel and contribute to improving the position.

As John Holden, Director of Policy Partnership & Innovation, NHS England, puts it “The evidence presented here shows that we don’t always have to choose between saving financial resources or protecting the environment – indeed, the most effective investments can often save money, improve health now, and safeguard the environment on which all future health depends. What’s good for the environment, and good for the patient’s health, can be good for the nation’s finances too.”

Financially, much the biggest scope for savings – more than the other 34 initiatives put together – is thought to be through improving psychiatric liaison (£259m) by providing mental health services to people being treated for physical health needs in hospitals through the introduction of a ‘rapid assessment, interface and discharge’ service. That also yield the third-highest carbon benefit of the 35 interventions. Given the suggested scale of the potential benefits, it is disappointing that this is dealt with in just one sentence in both the report and the 66 page technical appendix with case studies, but this looks as though it may be an area to prioritise. 

Download the report from SDU Health: Securing Healthy Returns Report.