Today, alongside four other UK organisations committed to tackling the climate crisis and promoting health, HCWH Europe has presented six recommendations to help the health and social care system to recover from the COVID19 pandemic published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ). HCWH Europe supports these recommendations for a sustainable and healthy recovery and believes that they are not just applicable to the UK health system, but the entire healthcare sector in Europe. We must build a fairer, more resilient system that contributes to a fairer, healthier and greener society.
Signatories to the letter include representatives of the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, UK Health and Climate Alliance, the Sustainable Healthcare Coalition, and the grassroots group Health Declares Climate & Ecological Emergency. It is understood that this article has been cited in the soon to be released report of the Greener NHS plan to achieve net-zero emissions in the health service as soon as possible.
Early recovery planning is critical
The pandemic is not yet over, but “early recovery planning is critical if we are to get it right and avoid simply returning to all the problems and inequalities of the old normal.”
There are many changes that the health and social care system needs make to promote health, progress towards net-zero carbon emissions, and improve resilience to future crises, but the recommendations below have the potential for the biggest impact as we think about recovery from the pandemic:
- Promote health not just healthcare
- Re-balance the whole health and social care system
- Change the health system from one that does things to patients to one that supports people to stay healthy and manage their conditions
- Give more freedom to local parts of the NHS to innovate and learn sustainably
- Change the rules of the system to cut carbon emissions
- Pay more attention to the wellbeing of staff
How we recover from this crisis will shape health and health inequalities for decades and our resilience to future crises.
By encouraging the promotion of health and not just healthcare, the group stresses the importance of prevention and investment in social care - to reduce pressure on the health service, reduce healthcare related emissions, and to reduce our vulnerability to future challenges.
The proportion of National Health Service (NHS) funding dedicated to public health is just 3% of the total health budget - a 25% reduction in investment per person since 2014 - “this neglect will have contributed to Britain’s high rate of excess deaths from COVID-19”.
Carbon emissions matter as much as, if not more than, money
Acknowledging the commitment and progress that the health service has already made to reducing its carbon footprint, we recognise the important role of innovation at a local level. Local coalitions of health and care organisations should be encouraged and supported to “test and learn” and share their positive findings across the health sector. Rules should also be changed so that organisations are required to measure and publish their annual carbon footprint together with a plan for reducing it to net-zero as rapidly as possible.
After an outpouring of public appreciation of the health service and the health professionals that keep it going, we also need a greater focus on pay and conditions, as well consideration for the mental and physical wellbeing of the workforce.
“COVID-19 has exposed undervalued strengths of the health service (staff dedication and the capacity to innovate) but also the failures of healthcare. We must learn from this to build a fairer, more resilient system that contributes to a fairer, healthier and greener society...
“... We hope that the government health and social care system will encourage and support these changes.”