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Why nurses are vital to the NHS net zero goal

12/05/2022

Emma Pascale Blakey is a registered nurse working in the Endoscopy department at OUH. Emma is also a Chief Sustainability Officer Clinical Fellow and, to mark International Nurses Day (Thursday 12 May 2022), she wrote a blog for Greener NHS about why nurses are vital to the NHS net zero goal:

I was born 10 weeks premature and owe my life to the amazing midwives, nurses, doctors, and other NHS staff working in neonatal intensive care many years ago. I've always wanted to be able to give back and it is an absolute privilege to be a nurse. I've worked in acute settings, most recently in a busy endoscopy department at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

International Nurses Day is an opportunity to reflect on what being a nurse means to us, and what we contribute to society. For me being a nurse means being able to put my values into practical action to provide care with compassion, knowledge, and skill ensuring patients and their families feel safe, heard, and involved.

In addition, for me being a nurse also means calling out the causes of inequality and doing what I can to tackle the reasons why they exist. Climate change mitigation is central to both of these pillars of nursing because the drivers of climate change are also the drivers of ill health and health inequalities. The combustion of fossil fuels is the primary contributor to deaths in the UK from air pollution, and this disproportionately affecting our most vulnerable communities.

Many years ago, Mary Seacole skilfully understood the natural world using plants and herbs as part of her nursing care, and our profession has always understood the importance of the environment on our health. Similarly, today, we can see the health impacts of climate change and identify the need to protect our planet and to protect the health of our patients.

In October 2020, the NHS became the world's first health service to commit to reaching carbon net zero. We will reach net zero emissions for the care we provide by 2040, and across our entire scope, provided and procured, by 2045.

The evidence is clear that climate change poses a major threat to our health as well as our planet. The environment is changing, that change is accelerating, and this has direct and immediate consequences for our health. We all have a role to protect our patients, colleagues, communities, and the NHS.

Nursing, midwifery and care staff are leading transformational change across health and care, and have a unique role to play in supporting the NHS net zero goal. As clinicians and patient advocates they are already making changes to tackle climate change at the source to improve the quality of the care we provide today, and for future generations.

Nurses are the largest single group of staff in the NHS, and as the most trusted profession in the UK we must use our voice and support a greener NHS. Nurses are leading transformational change across health and care as leaders, innovators, and advocates. We prove every day that we are adept at identifying issues and creating solutions. We can provide care that is both high quality and low carbon, and contribute massively to reducing the NHS carbon footprint.

The issue of climate change can seem overwhelming, but nurses are already making tangible changes to tackle climate change whilst also improving care. From using low carbon travel in their work, to pioneering green operating theatres, to recognising the positive impact green spaces can have on people’s mental health.

The contribution nurses make to the NHS every day is beyond measure, and this International Nurses Day I am proud to say that we're also making collective strides that will ensure we achieve our net zero ambition.