The NHS bodies that make up the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership have mirrored the recent decision of Greater Manchester Combined Authority and seven of the 10 Greater Manchester councils to date in this action.

It makes Greater Manchester the first “integrated care system”– NHS bodies and council social care working together – in the country to declare a climate emergency.

The Partnership will now develop and agree a plan before the end of the year that will show how the NHS will meet its obligations under the Climate Change Act to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

It will also support the pledges the Partnership has made to fulfil the Greater Manchester Five Year Plan for the Environment, which has set out the bold ambition for the city region to be one of the globe’s healthiest, cleanest and greenest city-regions and to be carbon neutral by 2038. (1)

The Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership plan will build on existing work already underway to cut the harmful impact of NHS activity on the environment. This includes:

  • cutting carbon emissions from energy use by improving efficiency and using low-carbon sources
  • work with partners to improve local transport around NHS sites, to improve air quality and cut the impact of supply chain transport
  • understand how to use workplaces and buildings more efficiently
  • reducing waste, managing waste better and reusing or recycling
  • using green space and the natural environment as a method of enabling good health and recovery

NHS organisations in Greater Manchester are already making progress in reducing carbon emissions and tackling environment degradation, for example:

Lord Peter Smith, chair of the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “The NHS has recognised climate change as the greatest threat we face to our health and wellbeing. This is urgent and we need to act now.

“Many individual NHS organisations are taking action already but we are the first integrated care system to make this statement of a climate change emergency.

“We are well positioned in Greater Manchester to make a real impact because of devolution and the joined up policies we have under the Mayor of Greater Manchester for the NHS, councils and local transport.

“This means we can have an impact more quickly, for example by changing the products we buy across multiple NHS trusts, implementing new ways of using products such as medical gases and improving transport to and from NHS sites.

“The NHS has always been a strong advocate for social justice and it is critical that we respond to this threat to our way of life.”

Dr Murugesan Raja is a local GP, a respiratory specialist and is part of Manchester’s climate change board.

He said: “We know that temperature extremes, air pollution and events such as flooding can have a damaging effect on health, particularly of more vulnerable people such as the young and the old.

“Air pollution causes the condition of people with asthma and breathing difficulties to get worse and particularly affects poorer communities. It is also an attributable risk factor for cardiac problems and lung cancer.

“As doctors we have a role to prevent these things from happening.

“Fortunately the benefits of taking action to prevent climate change also lead to better health.

“For example many GPs support their patients to take a stroll in their local park, to join a walking group or to work towards doing a Parkrun. Those things lead to people being more physically active, to enjoy green space around them and to make new friends, which is good for their mental health.”

The Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership leaders have decided to act because:

  • The NHS Long Term Plan commits to meeting the goals of the Climate Change Act, improving air quality and cutting single use plastics
  • The NHS is estimated to be responsible for around five per cent of all UK environmental emissions and five per cent of all journeys on UK roads are estimated to be healthcare related (2)
  • There are number of NHS products and services that are particularly damaging to the environment, for example the gases used in anaesthetics and the propellant used in asthma inhalers. However, alternatives are available and are being implemented.
  • The health impact of higher temperatures and more extreme weather events is predicted to be severe. It is expected to lead to an increase in conditions such as asthma and cardiovascular disease from air pollution; infectious diseases and respiratory conditions; depression and anxiety caused by events such as flooding; or forced migration and physical stress and injuries caused by extremes of heat (3)
  • Health harm caused by climate change and environmental degradation will affect the least well-off in society the worst and it is the NHS’s role to reduce health inequalities
  • Action to prevent global warming will also lead to improvement in health, for example through cleaner air, physical activity through walking and cycling, and through healthier eating
  • The impact of global warming poses a threat to the operation of local healthcare facilities through flooding, extreme temperatures and poor air quality

Examples of areas likely to be included in the Partnership’s “sustainable development management plan” are:

  • a healthy travel plan in place at each trust
  • Greater Manchester-wide plan for sustainable travel to and from NHS locations
  • assessing healthcare sites for adaptation with works such as sustainable drainage, electric vehicle charging points and tree planting
  • identifying areas where single use plastics could be reduced

The plan will now be considered by the Partnership’s member organisations with the aim of agreeing it by the end of this year.