HSE says health services will be carbon neutral by 2050

Dr Philip Crowley presents overview of system’s first climate action strategy set to be ready by end of year

Healthcare in the State creates about 5% of all of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions

The State’s health services will be carbon neutral by no later than 2050, the Health Service Executive has said, promising a healthcare system that is environmentally and socially sustainable.

Giving an overview of the HSE’s first climate action strategy which is due to be ready by the end of 2022, HSE executive Dr Philip Crowley identified 170 major energy users that contribute three-quarters of all emissions, including the major hospitals.

“We have to reach a point of urgency and optimism rather than urgency and pessimism to deal with climate change,” Dr Crowley, the HSE’s national director of strategy and research, told a health conference.

Healthcare in the State creates about 5 per cent of all of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions, with the manufacturing and transport of medicines contributing about a quarter of that figure alone.


Keeping people well and “upping our game on preventative healthcare”, as well as increasing the use of remotely deliverable healthcare services, will play a key role in reducing the HSE’s carbon footprint.

However, the Irish Doctors for the Environment (IDE) group said the HSE must first calculate the emissions from each of its buildings, along with tracking the environmental costs linked to buying, transporting and disposing of goods.

Procurement accounts for about 78 per cent of health emissions, Dr Rachel McCann, an infectious disease registrar at St Vincent’s University Hospital, told the conference organised by the Environmental Protection Agency, the HSE and the Economic and Social Research Institute.

“We need to look at the safe repurposing of healthcare equipments and more purchasing of medical instruments and devices in Ireland, as well as including environmental criteria in procurement costs,” said Dr McCann, a member of the IDE.

Ireland’s health system is unsustainable since it is hugely reliant on hospital care, she said: “We need more funding for primary care and preventative strategies so patients don’t reach a crisis point when they need to go to hospital. Having a healthcare workforce carrying out preventative strategies would reduce carbon emissions.”

In December, the IDE will launch a pocket guide to environmentally friendly inhalers which use dry powder rather than a propellant gas to distribute the medicine to the patient. “This switch alone would lead to a 98 per cent reduction in carbon footprint of inhalers without impacting on patient care,” said Dr McCann.

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, heritage and the environment