Healthcare providers must involve engineers to reach net zero targets, says IMechE report

The NHS must undertake a major investment in sustainable healthcare technologies to lower emissions and reduce waste, according to a new report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE).


The NHS, which is currently responsible for four per cent of England’s carbon emissions, has pledged to achieve net zero by 2045, with Scotland and Wales setting similar targets.

In a new report, ‘Transforming Healthcare: The role of engineering to deliver a Net Zero health service,’ the IMechE said the NHS should work more closely with engineers to develop innovations that tackle the unique problems that healthcare faces, in order to reach its net zero ambitions.

The NHS’ net zero goals, established in 2020 with a multi-year plan, included delivering more care at or closer to people’s homes, reducing waste of consumable products and making sure new hospitals and buildings are built to be net zero emissions.

In a statement, Dr Helen Meese, chair of the IMechE’s Biomedical Engineering Division and lead author of the report, said: “The transition to net zero requires a multi-stakeholder approach, and nowhere is this more evident than in healthcare.

“Engineers have a huge role to play here, not only in designing and implementing sustainable healthcare solutions but also in fostering collaboration across disciplines and industries to ensure a healthier and more sustainable future for all.”

The report outlines technologies such as the use of drones to deliver medical supplies, fully reusable medical textiles, and rebreathing devices to eliminate the environmental impact of anaesthetic gases.

Additionally, it states that whilst climate change is one of the biggest global health threats, with a third of global heat-related deaths attributed to climate change, it is paradoxical that the healthcare sector globally is one of the biggest emitters.

According to the report, actions to drive down emissions in healthcare are therefore vital to not only slowing and reversing the effects of climate change but for improving public health outcomes and reducing pressures on health systems around the world.

The IMechE is also calling for the continued support of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through funding initiative such as SBRI Healthcare. It recommends further support for companies post-funding to facilitate uptake across healthcare systems.

The report said that this should be complemented with improvements to the UK’s medical devices regulatory framework, where UK government should use current reforms to align UK rules closely with those of international partners and provide accelerated regulatory pathways for priority areas such as net zero. This can help prevent an innovation drain to competitor nations such as the US.

The report can be accessed and read in full here