NHS Education for Scotland sustainability strategy and action plan focus on digital first approach

NHS Education for Scotland (NES) has published its climate emergency and sustainability strategy for 2024-2027 along with an action plan for delivery, including focus on a ‘digital first’ approach “both to the work of its own staff and the delivery of training”.

Placing emphasis on remote learning, the strategy states that work-related travel should be minimised “to the furthest extent” with a digital-first approach to education and training where possible. As part of this, NES is collaborating with National Services Scotland through to September this year to develop and deliver a range of eModules to provide training around sustainability, with NES also to track data around uptake and completion. It is expected that the development of the “robust tracking and reporting process” will be completed by August.

Acknowledging that in-person learning “will always be required for certain areas and specific skills” within healthcare, NES nonetheless pledges to move to a digital model aside from these exceptions, with a “travel hierarchy” developed to outline such exceptions.

Additionally, new metrics for data collection around travel associated with NES’s work are to be developed to support benchmarking and the setting and achieving of targets. NES plans to undertake cross-department collaboration to consider all elements required within this data, along with developing a “practical approach to meaningful collation”.

Adding that this digital first approach is “influential” in informing the board’s direction of travel regarding sustainability, NES also highlights an aim to help other boards and social care organisations to embrace remote learning where possible.

Another key area within the strategy is digital infrastructure, with work spanning quarter three and quarter four of 2024. Here, NES states that a strategic plan for infrastructure and operations is to be developed which will “include the rationalisation of all data centres and server rooms”. NES seeks to implement enterprise architecture in a cloud-first context to help meet sustainability and environmental objectives. On this, the action plan notes that work is underway “to evaluate Microsoft proposal of migrating NHS Scotland VMWare environments into their Azure cloud”, and states that adoption of this solution “may significantly reduce or remove the requirement for any on-premise data centres”.

The need to remove waste by decommissioning/repurposing hardwire is highlighted, with the action plan stating that work to remove redundant hardware from data centres is ongoing, with some sites cleared to date. An environmental impact report is to be produced upon completion, and over the next six months NES will be reviewing how the organisation tracks all waste and creating a process for reporting on this.

NES emphasises the need to capture data on any related reductions in carbon metrics, and adds that scoping of any new data centre requirements will consider and reflect sustainability aims.

NES acknowledges the role of procurement when it comes to undertaking work around sustainability, with the organisation “proactively engaging and complying” with legislation, regulations and sustainability credentials of contractors and commissioned partners. In particular, NES commits to ensuring that supply chains are “rationalised, responsible, and resilient, creating environmental and economic benefits by default”. Engagement work with “critical” suppliers to understand their net zero plans and map out anticipated emissions is to be completed by quarter three this year, with plans to have ensure full training around procurement and sustainability for all staff by quarter four.

The strategy also notes how data is being used to design and implement “meaningful, data-driven behaviour change campaigns” to support staff on best practice around climate emergency and sustainability within their areas.

Click here to access the strategy in full, and here to view the action plan.

Sustainability in focus

Also from Scotland, HTN explored the sustainability strategy from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, in which the organisation shares a vision for a “resilient health service which is socially, economically and environmentally sustainable” and sets out plans to utilise technology to support with property, transport, communications and more.

On research, we looked into a project led by King’s College London which seeks to explore the environmental impacts of artificial intelligence enabled health, with a central focus on how “ethical principles can be integrated to improve the sustainability” of digital health systems.

We also previously interviewed Luke O’Shea, director of innovation and executive lead for sustainability at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, about the trust’s green plan, projects and sustainability champions.