Sonia Roschnik: Why sustainability is core to health

sdulogo2 Welcome to a series of blogs on sustainable healthcare that look at health, sustainability, and the interplay between the two. The blogs share ideas from experts across the healthcare field, some of whom are speaking at a major European conference looking at Pathways to Sustainable Healthcare in September 2013. More about the conference can be seen at

Our current and future world presents fundamental challenges that health systems need to deal with and manage. One key challenge is how to deliver services that provide the best health and social care possible within the finite resources that are available.  Minimising our impact on the environment and our contribution to climate change, whilst also being prepared and resilient to the effects of a changing climate and adverse weather events are a vital part of our modern challenges.

There are many direct correlations between our environment and our health at all levels.  There are positives, such as the fact that green spaces contribute to our mental wellbeing and our propensity to leading a healthier life.  However, air pollution increases the risk of respiratory diseases.  Heatwaves increase the risk of skin cancer and severe dehydration leading to death.  These can be reduced by careful planning for the impact of environmental changes and taking action that will both allow resilience to cope with them and also mitigate against their impact in the future.

In order to deal with these, and future problems, a cohesive approach in health and care is needed. Addressing sustainable development, carbon reduction and improving our resilience to climate change need to be considered as part of a whole system approach.  It is through the integration of these elements that a truly effective sustainable health system emerges.

To help consider what a sustainable health system looks like and how to get there we have developed the “Route Map for Sustainable Health.” The route map is a framework for action to develop a sustainable health system. It identifies areas that require progress in order to save money and resources, improve health, and make changes future proof. It describes the roles we need to play and where we can continue to make a difference.  It requires an integrated approach by organisations across the health and care system collaborating to create opportunities by maximising resources and minimising duplication.

An integrated sustainable health system is not just the use of resources. It will be a central part of individual and collective culture, being seen as the norm with people valuing a sustainable approach to everything they do. It will make full use of technology, innovation, and research to allow transformational change possible.  It will embed sustainability in commissioning and procurement to ensure the supply chain adheres to the same philosophies.

Our recent consultation on a future sustainable development strategy produced nearly 1000 responses. It showed that organisations believe sustainability should be integrated into long term healthcare planning.  CleanMed is a key event in helping develop these conversations, facilitating knowledge transfer and collaboration which will result in a more sustainable health system.

Sustainability is core to health both from the impact that healthcare organisations can have on the environment and the impact the environment can have on people’s health. The most effective and efficient system will be one that best integrates the various components together in a financially, environmentally, and socially responsible way.

Sonia Roschnik is Head of Unit of the Sustainable Development Unit (SDU), which is funded by NHS England and Public Health England to work across the NHS, public health, and social care system and will be speaking at the CleanMed Europe conference.