A Greener NHS in NWL Primary Care

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 patients, the public and the NHS.

The Greener NHS programme will work with staff, hospitals and NHS partners. Building on the great work being done by trusts across the country, sharing ideas on how to reduce the impact on public health and the environment, save money and reach net carbon zero.

The NHS Impact
  • Is responsible for ~ 5% of all UK environmental emissions.
  • By some estimates, one in every 20 journeys on UK roads is healthcare-related. Up to 38,000 people die early due to  air pollution in the UK each year, largely caused by traffic. It is impossible to escape the conclusion that NHS activity is implicated in some of these deaths.

Health services and medical supply chains emit potent greenhouse gases other than COsuch as methane, nitrous oxide and hydrofluorocarbons (in anaesthetic gases and some asthma inhalers). In addition, the health sector contributes to:

  • Plastic waste.
  • Water pollution (including with biologically active pharmaceutical products).
  • Deforestation (E.g. for rubber plantations to supply glove manufacture).
  • Depletion of scarce minerals (E.g. for use in surgical instruments).
‘Net Zero’ Healthcare

In October 2020, the NHS became the world’s first health service to commit to reaching carbon net zero, in response to the profound and growing threat to health posed by climate change. The “Delivering a Net Zero Health Service” report sets out a clear ambition and two evidence-based targets.

  • The NHS Carbon Footprint: for the emissions we control directly, net zero by 2040
  • The NHS Carbon Footprint Plus: for the emissions we can influence, net zero by 2045.

Thanks to NHS people, partners, and suppliers, we’re already on the way to building a greener NHS. One year on from setting out these targets, the NHS has reduced its emissions equivalent to powering 1.1 million homes annually. Together, we can achieve even more. More information about Greener NHS can be found here.

Primary Care and the Environment

NW London has 350 general practices, while a practice individually has a very small carbon footprint, they play a crucial role in communities by having regular direct contacts with patients and can therefore act as enablers for change. As part of the NW London ICS Green Plan, the ICS aims to support these practices through engagement, coordination, information, and education as they move to a more sustainable approach of delivering care.

Primary care represents 23 per cent of the NHS total footprint and contributes nearly 1 per cent of England’s carbon footprint. Pharmaceuticals and chemicals account for nearly half of primary care’s emissions.

NW London ICS will work with Primary Care Networks to help drive emissions down through switching to low carbon equipment such as low carbon inhalers and reducing single-use plastics, in addition to helping reduce building emissions through encouraging the installation of energy efficient measures and better monitoring through smart meters and encouraging the use of digital tools to create more sustainable models of care.

NW London ICS will also work collaboratively with boroughs and third sector organisations that are involved in the delivery of healthcare services to reduce emissions and provide a healthier environment for communities across our region.

The single biggest contributor to the NHS Carbon Footprint that Primary Care can directly impact is Metered Dose Inhalers. Resources for patients and clinicians can be found here.

Sources of Carbon Emissions in the NHS Carbon Footprint Plus:


General Resources
Inhaler resources
Role specific resources
 from Delivering a Net Zero NHS (Page 14)
 from Delivering a Net Zero NHS (Page 14)