ABHI and sustainable HealthTech

15th September 2023


Climate change and health are inextricably linked. As temperatures rise and ecosystems are disrupted, there are a number of health risks associated with this; heat-related illnesses, respiratory conditions, water-borne diseases and malnutrition to name a few.

We also know that, especially in the UK, our infrastructure is not built to handle extreme heat. In 2022, computers at Guy’s and St Thomas’ crashed as a ‘direct result of record-breaking heat,’ which led to cancelled operations, postponed appointments and seriously ill patients being diverted to other centres for at least three weeks.

Climate change impacts on healthcare, but healthcare also has an impact on the climate. The NHS accounts for around 4% of England’s carbon emissions, with healthcare’s climate footprint equating to 4.4% of total emissions globally. The NHS has recognised the need to act, and has committed to becoming net zero by 2045, with a number of other milestones and requirements for suppliers to meet in order to support the NHS on its journey. As part of procurement processes, suppliers to the NHS are now required to make commitments on social value to demonstrate what they are doing to better their communities and planet, as well as completing carbon reduction plans (CRPs) as part of the tendering process. This means that those in the HealthTech sector are considering their impact, measuring their carbon emissions and working on how to reduce their carbon footprint.

At the Association of British HealthTech Industries (ABHI), we work to support the HealthTech community to provide products and services that help people live healthier lives. The sector covers medical devices, diagnostic technologies and digital health solutions, and supply products that range from syringes and wound dressings to surgical robots and digitally enhanced tools. With such a broad scope of technologies, the HealthTech industry is able to improve the sustainability of the healthcare system in a myriad of ways, and is taking the opportunity to do so.

Changing Patient Pathways

Although potentially a difficult task, changing the way we are delivering healthcare can have a positive impact on the planet, as was shown throughout the pandemic. By moving to a system of remote monitoring, remote triage for assessing the need to visit a healthcare facility and apps to reduce risks and cases of Covid, it showed that we can do things differently, whilst maintaining patient safety, and crucially, reducing our emissions in the process. Monitoring patients remotely can detect when patients need professional care, whilst also reducing the need for as many physical hospital or GP surgery appointments.

This not only decreases emissions from travelling to and from appointments – travel makes up 17% of the NHS carbon footprint – but physical healthcare visits themselves can be incredibly resource intensive. It is estimated that a visit to a general practitioner creates 66kg of CO2e on average. Although remote monitoring is not always the best option for the patient, improving capabilities to do so is vital moving forward.

The sooner that patients can be diagnosed and treated, the less likely they are to end up needing emergency treatment or more intensive care. Whether that is through remote monitoring, improving diagnostic capabilities or other technological advancements, it is moving in the direction of what is best for patient, population and planet.

The industry is innovative in nature, and it is applying this spirit to the sustainability drive. From shrinking PCR machines from the size of a room to being able to sit on a table, to increasing use of robotics in surgical procedures, the industry is enabling a more efficient healthcare system. This reduces waste, both in terms of wasted time and clinical waste that needs to be disinfected and disposed of, which also carries a large environmental impact. Continuing on this trajectory, the sector is more than capable of improving the ecological footprint the healthcare system currently impacts.

Addie MacGregor is a sustainability executive at the Association of British HealthTech Industries

Image credit: Shutterstock

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