Kathy Scott is the Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Chief Executive at Yorkshire and Humber AHSN. She also acts as Chair for the AHSN Network Environmental Sustainability Community of Interest. Sarah Walpole is the 2021-2022 National Medical Director’s Clinical Fellow at NICE.

In this blog, Kathy and Sarah discuss how important it is to consider environmental sustainability at the start of an innovation journey, and how AHSNs and NICE can support innovators and SMEs to do that.

As we move ever closer to our ambition of delivering a ‘Net Zero’ NHS, it’s increasingly important that innovators are considering the environmental impacts of their innovations.

As the biggest employer in Britain, the NHS contributes to the equivalent of 4% of England’s total carbon footprint. Environmental impacts as a result of healthcare and the way it’s delivered include carbon emissions, air pollution, water pollution and waste production.

During COP26 the leaders of more than 10 major NHS suppliers publicly pledged their support for a healthier future by committing to reach Net Zero emissions by 2045 or earlier.

A supplier roadmap was created which lays out a process towards achieving this and includes criteria which all suppliers will need to achieve by 2027, including publicly reporting emissions and a carbon reduction plan.

To explore how much work there is to do, to support innovators to ‘think green’, we jointly surveyed a small number of SMEs and asked what measures they had in place to monitor the carbon footprint of their products. We asked them how ready they felt to support these Net Zero targets.

The responses suggested that many innovators don’t have these measures in place yet and aren’t quite sure how to get there.

We know more needs to be done to put environmental sustainability firmly on the agenda for all innovators who aspire to a future working within the NHS.

AHSNs are perfectly placed to support innovators and SMEs on this journey, developing their innovations and spreading that innovation in the NHS, offering support at every level. By publishing its plans to consider environmental impact in its assessments as they develop, NICE can inform and motivate innovators.

We’re both focused on ensuring innovations do as little harm to the environment as possible. As part of our role in supporting industry, AHSNs are increasingly working with innovators to ensure the work they do is sustainable, that they consider sustainability impacts within their product development, and that any new products they are developing will have a positive impact on the environment.

Recognising how important it is to put this issue at the heart of what we do, environmental sustainability is now something we’re collaboratively placing more of a focus on.

There is some great work being done at a local level, to support SMEs with sustainable or ‘green’ innovations which could help the NHS.

In 2021, Yorkshire and Humber AHSN, following the access of a pilot accelerator for environmentally sustainable health innovations, Net Zero support is being incorporated into the digital accelerator, Propel@YH. Companies supported by the programme will have access to bespoke support which includes how to make their innovations more sustainable.

And as part of the Commonwealth Games coming to the Midlands, West Midlands AHSN has partnered with Burntwood Si-Tech Innovation Birmingham and Create Central to create a programme supporting Green Innovation from creative industries and digital technology companies offering bespoke business support offer and funding for any successful regional based SME.

This movement is growing, and through our regular Community of Interest we’re sharing best practice across our organisations and ensuring what we do is aligned and focused on delivering a Net Zero NHS.

But to deliver these ambitions, we need this to be recognised by all innovators and SMEs too. For a future working with the NHS, it’s crucial that sustainability is at the heart of innovation.

To find out more about becoming environmentally sustainable, contact your local AHSN.

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