Creating a Healthier Environment is Part of Delivering Excellent Healthcare
Covid-19 revealed the need for more capacity and flexibility in the healthcare estate. Complex health issues, such as those arising from the virus, call for treatment to be delivered in acute hospitals that have access to the full range of expertise, equipment and trained staff. Hospitals coped during the peak of the pandemic largely because operating theatres and general wards were adapted to treat Covid patients.
This had knock-on effects for countless patients with non-Covid conditions, many of whom are waiting for treatment. Building programmes are now being initiated to provide extra capacity, ensuring more people can get the care they need in the most suitable location and so that hospitals can be more resilient.
Climate Change and Health
Alongside this capacity-building activity, we also have a looming climate crisis that hasn’t gone away. There is a commitment to health facilities being Net Zero Carbon by 2050 or sooner. It would be illogical for health service building projects to be doing anything other than embracing the Net Carbon Zero objective.
Climate and air quality have significant impacts on the health of the population. Air quality has a well-documented influence on respiratory health, and significant increases in summer temperatures or the frequency of extreme weather events have serious implications for physical and mental health that are hard to quantify.
It would be a strange world in which we chose to build new healthcare facilities using methods that we know generate more greenhouse gases and where the outcomes in terms of building performance and energy-efficiency are harder to guarantee. The methods and materials we use have to change.
There is a clear link between sustainable building strategies, health and wellbeing. Procurement needs to play its part in building a healthier nation and healthcare construction seems an obvious place to start.
Another key issue is where services are delivered. Expanded community and primary care could mean fewer emissions-creating journeys to outpatient facilities in hospitals. Proposed new and expanded community facilities must be included in urgent actions to make healthcare Net Zero Carbon.
The decisions taken today about adopting building methods that are environmentally sustainable, and which can guarantee the energy-efficiency of new facilities, will play a significant role in securing a healthier environment for the future.