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Student Views

Achieving sustainable healthcare

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 06 May 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g2900
  1. Rachel Stancliffe, director
  1. 1Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, Oxford OX2 7JA, UK

We need people who care and have the courage to try

I was in our local corner shop today and saw the headline: “NHS heading for financial ruin!” When we first started talking about sustainable healthcare six years ago people thought that we were referring to financial sustainability—and of course that is one way that we measure the use of resources. But I like to say to people that money is not a real thing but rather something we use to measure value, and so we don’t have to worry about it as much as real resources like carbon or rare metals. That’s not to say that money is not a crucial measure of sustainability, as the potential for financial ruin is an indicator of unsustainable healthcare, but there are other important elements to consider, such as social and environmental sustainability.

Many people within the healthcare industry are currently focused on the environment because climate change is such an immediate and important threat, but of course social sustainability interacts with the other elements—there is no point in tackling climate change if we aren’t also looking at what kind of society we end up with and whether people want to live there. This is as much about the values we prioritise as it is about measuring and reducing our carbon footprint—partly because we will have to make some tough decisions fairly soon if we want to enjoy the type of healthcare we experience today for generations to come.

Environmental sustainability

How environmentally sustainable we are needs to be tackled urgently—The BMJ and the Lancet have both campaigned about climate change, and top healthcare professionals have called it “the biggest health threat of the 21st century.”1 The NHS—the UK’s biggest employer and one with a “considerable carbon footprint”2—is tasked with …

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