Private care heading towards net zero

David Hare explains how the independent healthcare sector is working to achieve the target of ‘net zero’ by 2035.

If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we are very much living in ‘one world’. 

Just as it proved impossible to escape from Covid-19 in a globalised world, we also cannot ignore what is undoubtedly the most profound long-term threat to the health of the planet: climate change. 

Indeed, not only do rising carbon emissions have a devastating impact on the natural environment, there is growing evidence of their impact on our health. 

And as a sector which delivers care for millions of people every year, independent healthcare providers – and the practitioners that work in it – can make a real difference in the nation’s efforts to tackle climate change. 

Clearing the air

In November 2022, in time for the COP27 climate conference in Egypt, the Independent Health­care Providers Network (IHPN) was therefore delighted to publish our report, entitled ‘Clearing the air’, on how the independent health sector is working to achieve net zero carbon emissions. 

This is an important milestone and marks one year since we launched our voluntary industry-wide pledge for the sector to become net zero by 2035 – already signed up to by almost 50 providers working across over 1,500 sites. 

This bold target reflects the commitment from the sector and  those working in it to move as fast as possible on this agenda and to recognise that small changes today can make huge differences over the long term. 

Our journey to net zero will not be a quick one and will require healthcare providers to interrogate all aspects of their business to cut carbon emissions. 

And our latest report captures just some of the new and innovative ways independent providers and practitioners are reducing their environmental footprint.

In addition to the changes many households and businesses are making across the country, such as using more renewable energy sources like solar power or increasing energy efficiency through better insulation and use of LED light bulbs, there has been a particular push in the independent acute sector towards developing greener operating theatres. 

Anaesthetic gases

As many Independent Practitioner Today readers will be aware, anaesthetic gases are commonly used as part of surgery and desflurane is one of the most common anaesthetic gases used both in the NHS and in the independent sector. 

But desflurane is also one of the most harmful and has 20 times the environmental impact of other less harmful greenhouse gases. 

Using one bottle has the same global warming effect as burning 440kg of coal. As a result, hospitals across the independent sector have now committed to stop using desflurane and will now focus on using lower carbon alternatives, saving thousands of tonnes of carbon over the course of a year.

Recognising that change comes from the ground up, many providers across the sector have also established green ‘champions’ and other staff engagement groups to drive this agenda, so that those practitioners working on the front line can make improvements and identify opportunities to further reduce their carbon footprint. 

Head start

This is so important, as we know that tackling the climate change emergency is a key priority for the next generation of medical professionals. And organisations who can demonstrate their green credentials will have a head start in recruiting the most talented graduates in the years ahead.  

For providers and practitioners across the independent healthcare sector, the journey to achieving net zero may seem a long and daunting one. 

But as the trade association that represents independent healthcare providers, IHPN will continue to support our members and those working in the sector to deliver their net zero ambitions. 

This includes delivering a wide-ranging programme of work to support members on issues such as sustainable medicines, developing carbon reduction plans and understanding net zero and social value. 

Because only by working together and sharing best practice do we stand the best chance of succeeding in the fight against climate change.

David Hare (right) is the chief executive of the Indepen­dent Health­care Providers Net­work