With 3.5% of UK road journeys (9.5 billion miles) being related to staff, patient, visitor and logistical travel, its easy to see how travel makes up 14% of the net emissions from the NHS (Delivering a Net Zero NHS).
Figure 1: How the 14% of the net emissions from travel are divided (Adapted from Delivering a Net Zero NHS).
What can we do to reduce the carbon footprint from travel? Anaesthetists have long embraced the co-benefits of active transport, saving money, cutting CO2 and keeping healthy. However there remain many barriers to active transport, such as poor facilities and unsafe roads, which need to be addressed. COVID-19 has seen improvements in this regard with new cycle lines opening throughout the UK.
Another unintended benefit of to come from the pandemic has been the increase in the use of telemedicine and teleconferencing, with its associated financial, environmental, and social benefits. One paper looked at benefits of telephone preoperative assessment for the families of 279 children with cerebral palsy presenting for myofascial lengthening surgeries. It found that over three years 106,070 road miles were saved, the equivalent to driving 4 times around the world, and families saved on average $343.64 (Robinson et al 2017).
On the contrary in 2007 Callister and Griffiths reported that the American Thoracic Society meeting in San Diego contributed 10779 tonnes of carbon dioxide from air travel alone. It is essential that we embrace videoconference technologies to continue our professional development in a responsible fashion and make the lives of the patients we care for easier and healthier. Apps such as CPD match can help you to find CPD activities locally or virtually, thus reducing your carbon footprint and costs.
There some big plans in the pipeline (figure 2) to help get the NHS travel carbon footprint lower, including zero emission ambulances, however we are going to be reliant on the government ban on the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid vehicles from 2040.
Figure 2: Interventions to reduce transport and travel emissions from the NHS (Delivering a Net Zero NHS).