How walking and cycling can help the NHS tick all of the sustainability boxes

Thursday, 8 June 2017

I was very grateful to present a travel award and the 5th NHS Sustainability Awards to The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust. The Trust has done an excellent job helping their staff to walk and cycle to work, particularly through the support of their Green Travel Team. The Awards ceremony, which took place on 17 May at the Imperial College London, was a great reminder that the focus of sustainability is far broader than the environment. Sustainability also helps save money and promotes a healthy and just society.

http://www.sustrans.org.uk/blog/how-walking-and-cycling-can-help-nhs-tick-all-sustainability-boxes

The right kind of savings 

In 2016 alone, the NHS saved £5 million through sustainable measures, enabling more money to be spent on patient care.

There are particular links between sustainable travel and health within the NHS. Shifting people from cars to walking, cycling and public transport not only has environmental benefits and achieves financial savings, but also creates genuine health benefits for staff and patients.

At the awards, Dame Barbara Hakin’s speech highlighted the parallels between the changes required in the NHS, public health and wider sustainability. Instead of only treating the symptoms of poor health, or the impact that unsustainable practices create, we need to look upstream to intervene earlier and address the causes.

Making it easier for people to walk and cycle, both within the NHS and across society as a whole, should be an integral part of this upsteam approach. Walking and cycling enable people to be more active, reducing the risks of developing a number of health conditions whilst reducing the negative impact of motor vehicle traffic, air pollution and CO2 at source.

When considering that the costs of sedentary lifestyle health complications are around £1.2 billion a year to the NHS, the benefits of walking and cycling are undisputable.

Ticking all boxes

Sustainability is most often defined as meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. The NHS provides a clear example that sustainability only makes sense where it is addressed holistically by focusing on it's three constituent pillars: social, economic, and environmental. 

If any one pillar is weak then the system as a whole is unbalanced and risks collapse.

Sustrans has been working with the NHS in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for almost 10 years to ensure that sustainable travel plays its role. One of our most effective projects has been working with Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust.

The six-year project was very successful at embedding sustainable transport into the strategy of the Trust, working in partnership with multiple departments to increase sustainability, addressing health and wellbeing, amongst others.

As a result, cycling levels increased by 6% in the first two years of the project, and over 500 staff purchased new bikes through the cycle to work scheme.

Excellent work has been going on in trusts and public health teams to ensure the NHS is sustainable over the long term, and this needs to be continued and scaled-up across the UK, to ensure we are more on track towards a healthier and socially responsible society.