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Well, yes Polly, but the NHS still isn’t very good

Summary:
Polly Toynbee tells us that the National Health Service is very green, as health services go:But one event at Cop26 will raise the spirits. The NHS, far out ahead, will make a key presentation to the world’s other health systems to show what can be done. The NHS is responsible for 5% of the UK’s carbon emissions: the recently departed head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, put climate targets firmly into the NHS long-term plan, warning: “If health services across the world were their own country, they’d be the fifth-largest emitter on the planet.”You might think going green was the last thing the NHS could do right now, after its decade of unprecedented underfunding, with waiting lists going through the roof, acute doctor and nurse shortages, and burnt-out staff being awarded paltry pay

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Polly Toynbee tells us that the National Health Service is very green, as health services go:

But one event at Cop26 will raise the spirits. The NHS, far out ahead, will make a key presentation to the world’s other health systems to show what can be done. The NHS is responsible for 5% of the UK’s carbon emissions: the recently departed head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, put climate targets firmly into the NHS long-term plan, warning: “If health services across the world were their own country, they’d be the fifth-largest emitter on the planet.”

You might think going green was the last thing the NHS could do right now, after its decade of unprecedented underfunding, with waiting lists going through the roof, acute doctor and nurse shortages, and burnt-out staff being awarded paltry pay rises. But no. Jackie Daniel, head of Newcastle upon Tyne hospitals, has pioneered the green cause within the NHS and is making the Cop26 presentation to world health services. “A few, exhausted trusts did think this was the last thing they could cope with now,” she tells me. “But astonishingly, nearly everywhere has seized on this. We’ve found it’s something that really enthuses staff, and they have been the ones driving it forward.”

We also know that the NHS is very equitable, most fair and offers equal access to all. All quite possibly desirable attributes of a health care system.

We can’t help but keep reminding ourselves that even with all of this the NHS isn’t in fact a good health care system. As the OECD (and others, there are a number of attempts at quantifying this) points out the NHS just isn’t very good at “mortality amenable to health care”. That is, stopping people from dying from things which medical treatment could stop them dying from. We may indeed be merely neoliberal utilitarians but we do think that could be a significant aim of having a health care system.

Even to the point that worrying a little less about greenery, equity, equality and so on might - just possibly, you know? - lead to an improvement in actually curing patients?

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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