As the NHS strives towards its goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2045, it faces several challenges in leveraging their data to its full advantage. Effective data management and analysis are crucial in all aspects of NHS operations; for you cannot manage what you don’t measure and tracking progress towards sustainability targets is no exception.
In contributing to the climate change effort, the NHS are creating a healthier living environment that will have a positive impact on population health and ultimately reduce the strain on the public health system. It’s been projected that if the UK were to achieve net zero by 2040 significant health benefits would be realised including saving 5,770 lives per year through the reduction of air pollution.
Using the right data in the right way to reduce their carbon footprint will literally save lives.
The biggest stumbling block in healthcare data management is the complexity and sheer size of the health data landscape. This is difficult to navigate given healthcare provision by its very nature is a complex undertaking and a complexity that won’t go away. There is also a level of unpredictability as the system is forced to adapt as the environment around it changes. With the existence of numerous interdependencies, governing bodies and diverse population health requirements compounded by many external factors shaping health outcomes the healthcare industry is seeking to make, successfully managing the data landscape is no mean feat.
The United Nations shared a blueprint for peace and prosperity through 17 Sustainable Development Goals with the intent a better way of living can only be achieved through a global partnership. This notion of partnership and knowledge sharing is something the NHS are struggling to effectively implement and thus causing problems in how they effectively manage data.
An implication of having 200 + trusts who act largely independently is that data exists in siloes and thus there is an inability to compare data sets like for like. As a result, there are scalability issues so any success with sustainability initiatives in one trust or hospital is rarely replicated in another and remains a case of isolated progress. For example, the SHINE (Sustainable Healthcare in Newcastle) rewards programme at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Shine is a staff benefits program which rewards staff for saving energy, reducing waste, travelling sustainably, and taking part in other sustainable actions. The programme is aimed at motivating staff to make behavioural changes to help the trust reach net zero through the accumulation of points and rewards.
Although this is a great initiative, it is not a replacement for having the right green infrastructure across all NHS estates in terms of consistent approaches to staff engagement, knowledge, and technological capabilities. As with most cases with data work across the NHS, there is no formal forum to share this. The lack of dedicated space to share best practices means other staff can’t learn from the work or replicate it nor can anybody reuse their own local data. With a system frequently deprived of a common of knowledge it creates difficulty in training new staff or developing the existing workforce with green data skills.
It’s understandable these compatibility issues would crop up, with different factions and trusts monitoring and measuring their data in their own way. Typically, this data is managed on different systems that cannot be cross-referenced. In terms of the sustainability programme, different trusts use different metrics to measure the improvements they’ve made in environmental areas as highlighted in their individual Green Plans. For example, University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust measure their success with a ‘Sustainable Development Assessment Tool’ whilst University Hospitals Plymouth measure their progress with the Model Health System Sustainability Metrics. While each trust has it own unique needs, without a standardised way of measuring improvements in key categories like waste management and energy efficiency it creates difficulty in scoping national trends.