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NHS Digital announces sustainability pledge

NHS Digital outlines its commitments and plans to tackle the net-zero challenge, including a new approach to cloud hosting

NHS Digital has outlined its sustainability pledges to evolve towards the goal of reaching carbon net zero, which includes a revised approach to cloud hosting.

The commitments are part of the Greener NHS programme published in October 2020, and follow the discussions around environmental concerns at COP26.

According to NHS Digital, its commitment of becoming a net-zero organisation entails supporting staff to take action, as well as providing leadership to the NHS in adopting sustainable digital services.

This includes setting up a cloud centre of excellence that is expected to support the shift to “more resilient and sustainable cloud hosting arrangements”.

“We’ve already made some positive steps towards reducing our impact on the environment, and our corporate sustainability programme is now developing a comprehensive sustainability strategy for the organisation,” said Patrick Clark, NHS Digital’s associate director of core infrastructure services.

Earlier in November, Sonia Patel, CIO for the NHS and care at NHSX, wrote about the role of digital in supporting the health system’s commitment to reaching its net-zero carbon emissions targets.

To make further progress on the net-zero agenda across the NHS and care system through digital, Patel said the NHSX’s What Good Looks Like (WGLL) framework for digital transformation will see an assessment of its smart foundations element.

She said the scope of the assessment, to be published before the end of 2021, will be “much wider than sustainability”. Patel anticipated WGLL will outline the current state of organisations in terms of sustainable digital service delivery and cover aspects such as data storage and hosting, travel and paper reduction, end-user devices, and artificial intelligence and automation.

Outlining the progress made around digital technologies in terms of their impact in reducing the carbon footprint in health and care, Patel said making data hosting more efficient at NHS Digital has saved 4,000 tonnes of carbon.

The NHS Digital report on achieving net zero outlined the modelling and analytics approach underpinning the latest NHS carbon footprint, trajectories and the interventions required to achieve its sustainability ambitions.

The report lays out the direction, scale and pace of change, while describing an “iterative and adaptive approach”. According to NHS Digital, the net-zero plan will have its progress periodically reviewed and the goals increased over time.

In October, the UK government published details about how it intends to achieve its goal of reducing the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 by phasing out the use of fossil fuels from society and adding more green power to the nation’s energy mix. Datacentres were flagged as a prime source of waste heat that could be repurposed to warm homes and businesses as part of the plan to decarbonise the economy.

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