Whilst the healthcare sector might not be the biggest culprit when it comes to greenhouse gasses it is incumbent upon all of us to ensure the targets are met, writes Bank of Ireland’s head of Health Sector Gráinne Henson.
Ireland’s ambition to reach net zero across all sectors of the economy by 2050, with a reduction of 51% by 2030, is of course well known.
The science relating to climate change is increasingly available and, in my experience, few people today are arguing against the need for significant changes in working practices, including within the healthcare sector.
“Alongside soft changes such as staff habits relating to energy saving practices, investing in green energy appears to be the way forward”
Whilst the healthcare sector might not be the biggest culprit when it comes to greenhouse gasses, it is incumbent upon all of us to ensure the targets are met.
What are the barriers?
The main challenge to effecting change, seems to be overcoming psychological barriers to addressing the problem. Across the board, the climate emergency can feel overwhelming and just ‘too big’, easier in the short-term not to think about it and get on with the day-to-day operations of the business.
Add to that the fact that in any given healthcare service, such as a private nursing home for example, SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) and other business analysis systems are usually full of very immediate matters requiring attention.
Once service directors and managers have dealt with the daily demands of clinical care, staffing issues, bed occupancy, HIQA requirements and impossible to predict curveballs thrown up by factors such as the pandemic, the working week is over and in reality there is little left in the tank to put towards consideration of longer-term opportunities and threats.
Perhaps that will change now, as the energy crisis makes the need for fossil energy saving changes very concrete and immediate. On the one hand it’s a little alarming to be hearing talk only now about staff in care setting being reminded to turn off lights, appliances, pcs, etc when not in use, but at least even those soft measures do seem to be starting to happen.
Properly washing our hands was always a good idea, but it took the pandemic to get many non-healthcare workers to do it. Perhaps long-term sustainable changes will be the silver-lining in the energy crisis cloud.
What can be done?
Alongside soft changes such as staff habits relating to energy saving practices, investing in green energy appears to be the way forward.
The initial outlay is sometimes seen as prohibitive and assistance, be that through grants and/or loans, may well be required in some instances.
It is essential that healthcare businesses are supported to find solutions, because the national carbon targets are not arbitrary numbers, they are important.
Is there any good news in this?
Yes, the good news in this is that I am starting to hear talk about the need to respond to the demands of climate change from within the healthcare sector.
That is relatively new in my experience, and it tells me that there is a commitment, or at the very least the beginnings of a commitment, within the Irish healthcare sector to be part of the solution to this global problem we face.
And that is something to work with.