Sustainable healthcare: “This is about solving unsustainable predicaments while ensuring opportunities are realised; to contribute to healthy lives, communities and environments into the future.”
Transformation will require a different way of thinking, strong leadership, innovation and importantly, partnerships between the private sector and healthcare providers to share responsibilities through organisations’ corporate social responsibilities (CSR).
The health and care system
The National Health Service in the UK, for example, is striding forward with a clear, well informed, focused strategy to integrate the entire health and care system into their sustainability (CSR) strategy. Their strategy stands out as a real opportunity to see a move towards sustainability, through partnership and for reasons that are core to their business – the health of the population.
Globally, the health and care sector provides both a solution to sustaining (human) life on earth, as well as a world-wide challenge (for all life on earth), for which solutions would be welcomed.
The solution / challenge aspect for sustainable healthcare
The health and care sector providesa solution:
Climate change, for example, is predicted to result in increased reliance on health care (new diseases, extreme weather, water and food scarcity etc.), so healthcare will continue to be a solution for the population to sustain their health. However, the health and care system also has the skill set and reason to be the solution through prevention, not just cure.
The health and care sector creates a challenge:
Health care services contribute to, for example, climate change. Hospitals consume huge amounts of energy in heating and cooling; they occupy large, complex buildings; they require large volumes of goods and deliveries of those goods – Food, laundry, medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, office supplies and deal with a huge range of domestic, chemical and hazardous wastes (and so on).
The main questions to solve operational challenges in the health and care system relate to patients either being in hospital longer than necessary, people not getting a treatment space quickly enough, people being inappropriately admitted or re-admitted, people not being given the opportunity to be treated out of hospital or people’s lack of self-management and keeping healthy.
CSR, as a new focal lens, can help address these issues… that is what sustainability is; it is about solving unsustainable predicaments while ensuring opportunities are realised; to contribute to healthy lives, communities and environments into the future. One likely opportunity being shared-skills across sectors.
Ultimately, if sustainable development is about improving and sustaining human life on earth (through preserving the environment and thinking about today’s and tomorrow’s global societies), then the direct knowledge about how to keep a human ‘alive and well’ is a key input skill for developing a sustainable society. That’s where the health and care system employees and their skills come to be further valued. Healthy people, healthy communities is the health and social care system’s business and business-led sustainable development is proving globally to be the key to successful steps forward.
If an organisation wants to lead a CSR or sustainability programme with focus on sustainability, partnering with the health and care sector would be an important opportunity. If that partnership can help all involved address the solutions (‘do more good’ not just ‘less bad’) as well as the problems (the ‘less bad’), we will see sustainable change.
Let’s take an example – Digital companies and a responsibility to engage with healthcare
The trend for ‘always-on’ technology and the huge potential of ‘The Internet of Things’ – smart everyday consumer devices communicating with each other, is now at a stage where digital companies need to take stock, realise their environmental impacts and benefits and consider what they can do to ensure they are doing ‘more good’, not only ‘less bad’.
There is a wealth of technology being developed in improving the monitoring of patients in their homes, from carpet mats with sensors which can measure people who are ‘at risk’ walking about, to systems which enable medical check-ups to be remotely carried out.
When people are connected there is less need to travel or leave home to go to a hospital or clinic. People are empowered, given greater flexibility and stress levels and risk of infection could be reduced; so long as the people know what they have to do, are comfortable with the equipment and aren’t missing out on human contact.