This year’s annual conference, themed on sustainability and climate change, opened with a session on NHS sustainability chaired by RCP president Dr Sarah Clarke.
Gareth Murcutt gave a talk that encouraged delegates to adopt new approaches to waste reduction. Gareth explained how his trust had made changes in how they acquire and use products in the dialysis unit, making significant reductions in plastic packaging and their carbon footprint. Sean James then explained the potential of using drones to transport blood between hospital sites, a process which can both reduce carbon emissions and save time.
Dr Nick Watts, chief sustainability officer for NHS England, gave the session’s final presentation, on the progress the NHS is making towards realising its ambition of becoming a net zero healthcare system. Having outlined the motivations and incentives for change, Dr Watts reviewed the good progress made by the health service over the past financial year, before Dr Clarke hosted a lively Q&A session.
The theme of sustainable healthcare continued in a subsequent session chaired by Dr William Stableforth. Dr Frances Mortimer, medical director for the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, began the presentations with an overview of how clinical decision-making can be used to reduce carbon and simultaneously improve health. James Connoley then offered a patient’s perspective on the impact of recent flooding in his local community, and the difficulties this created for him in receiving care for a chronic health condition.
Dr Tara Garnett is the director of Table, a platform that facilitates discussion around how the food system can become more sustainable. Her talk focused on how biodiversity loss, water shortages, pollution and other interconnected issues are exacerbated by our approach to food production. Dr Kate Wylie, chair of Doctors for the Environment Australia, gave the session’s final presentation, positioning climate change as a health issue and described her approaches and key messages that she recommends for community and patient engagement.
After lunch, Professor Hugo Montgomery introduced two experts who offered non-clinical approaches to the problems caused by climate change. Environmental economist Professor Elizabeth Robinson gave a talk on food security in a climate insecure world, and how extreme weather trends have negative long-term impacts on agriculture – and on consequent human behaviours. This was followed by Amar Rahman, whose presentation focused on risk engineering, a concept based on his work in the insurance sector. This afternoon session was completed by Dr Marina Romanello, executive director of the Lancet Countdown, who explained how the Countdown monitors progress (or lack thereof) on climate change and how the data being gathered now can be harnessed to help reduce the effects on health systems.
In addition to the programme of talks on sustainability, delegates also enjoyed simultaneous sessions on the topics of long COVID and multi-system effects, infectious diseases and public health, stroke management and multiple health conditions throughout the day.
The day finished with a closing keynote lecture by Professor Bola Owolabi on health inequalities. In a wide-ranging presentation, Professor Owolabi discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has widened existing inequalities, the intersection between patient safety incidents and health inequalities, the impact of air pollution and Core20PLUS5 (NHS England’s approach to inform action to reduce healthcare inequalities).
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