Report: Stronger green policies for transport and homes would save NHS £3.7bn each year

£3.7bn is equivalent to around 3% of the NHS's annual spend. Image: Francis Tyers

That is according to a new report from think-tank Green Alliance, published today (30 January).

Drawing on research by CREDS, a body convening research from academics at 15 UK universities, the report concludes that improved policies on active travel and electric mobility could save the NHS £2.5bn in costs annually, mainly through reduced rates of cardiovascular and lung problems, as well as diabetes.

This saving could be realised if just 1.7% of car journeys made annually in England are replaced by walking or cycling. Green Alliance claims this shift could also improve air quality, quality of life and public satisfaction with local authorities and Government.

Improvements to home energy efficiency policies could save the NHS a further £1.2bn per year, the report continues. It outlines how investment in measures such as insulation and fuel poverty prevention could reduce rates of health issues related to living in cold homes, such as pneumonia, particularly among the elderly. According to BRE, 10,000 people living in cold homes across the UK die prematurely each year.

£3.7bn is equivalent to around 3% of the NHS’s annual spend.

Commenting on the report’s findings, Green Alliance’s head of resource policy Libby Peake called the Government’s current approach to energy “self-defeating”.

The group is calling on Ministers to implement fresh measures to reduce energy demand across the transport and built environment sector; mandate the use of technical solutions to energy efficiency in these spaces; and better support flexible energy systems through new tariffs and technologies such as battery storage.

“Not only would reducing demand help to reach carbon reduction targets earlier, but it would also reduce infrastructure costs and benefit everyone – through cleaner air, more comfortable homes and healthier lives,” Peake said.

Saving energy and lives

The Green Alliance report has been welcomed by the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, which represents medical professionals, NHS Trusts, businesses across the healthcare sector and health researchers.

The body said that the report shows how Ministers “could improve the nation’s health while simultaneously tackling the climate emergency”.

Last year, the Government unveiled its NHS Long Term Plan, detailing key measures for the Service to decrease its own environmental footprint and that of its value chain. The Plan details support to reduce energy waste at hospitals and other primary care buildings; decarbonise the NHS fleet; reduce plastic waste and reduce medicine waste rates.

New policies around low-carbon, energy-efficient homes, and on low-carbon transport, are also beginning to take shape in the wake of the UK’s net-zero target being set.

On the former, the new Future Homes Standard aims to reduce the carbon intensity of new builds by 80% by 2025. As for existing properties, around £3.6bn of investment has been set aside to upgrade around 500,000 homes through the Energy Company Obligation (ECO), and the Government has extended support on domestic energy-efficiency improvements from 2022 to 2028.

On transport, which is the UK’s most emitting sector, the BEIS and Defra claim they are working with the DfT to develop a plan for decarbonising “every single mode of transport”, due to be published this year.

But green groups and Public Health England have repeatedly warned that action in these spaces has been neither rapid nor connected enough to help the UK meet its carbon budgets. The Government’s own Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has called its record on energy-efficient homes “shameful” and its electric vehicle plans “inadequate”.

Sarah George

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