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Health, climate change and innovation- Supporting the sustainability transition in the health care sector

Project Topic Overview

Climate change presents one of the most critical and urgent challenges of our time. In line with wider political ambitions, in 2020 the UK’s National Health Service set out its ambition to become “net zero” for its direct emissions by 2040. In 2019, the health service’s emissions totalled 25 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent of which 62% came from the supply chain, 24% from the direct delivery of care, 10% from staff commute and patient and visitor travel, and 4% from private health and care services commissioned by the NHS. Both the acute and primary care sectors are the largest contributors to this carbon footprint.

In this context there is an urgent need for new insights into how the health sector (both nationally and globally) can achieve such significant emissions reductions. This project seeks to develop innovative frameworks and (business) models designed to support this sustainability transition in the health care sector, for example, through re-designed clinical pathways, optimised services, as well as new forms of organisation and governance. Innovative approaches are also required for models of care, medicines and their supply chains, transport, travel, healthcare estate, infrastructure, and other assets.

Taking a nexus approach, this project recognises the critical interlinkages between climate action (SDG13), good health and wellbeing (SDG3), and industry, innovation, and infrastructure (SDG9). Beyond these primary goals, however, it is also imperative to acknowledge the wider tensions with and co-benefits for other SDGs when developing sustainable innovation and solutions.

Distinguishing between direct interventions and enabling actions, the key challenge is to identify innovative practices both for health care practitioners and managers that enable GHG emissions reductions while at the same time helping to deliver equal if not better health care outcomes. Yet there are also other constraints such as access to finance and human resources, as well as broader considerations including social inequalities, patient expectations, education, digitalisation, sustainable cities and communities, as well as sustainable production and consumption to be taken into account.

The primary research focus of this project is set on the UK but would aim to generate insights for global application as well. Beyond taking a nexus approach for contributing to the interconnected United Nations (UN) SDGs, the project seeks to develop a programme theory with which to propose and evaluate specific interventions designed to support the sustainability transition in the health care sector. Key outcomes of this project should therefore be new methodologies and frameworks that are based on both academic rigour and practical relevance.

Applicant Profile

Applicants may come from a variety of different background including management and/or health care and should demonstrate knowledge of and experience with several of the following:

  • Sustainability, climate change, UN Sustainable Development Goals, planetary health
  • Health care (management, policy, research)
  • Innovation management, digitalisation
  • Carbon management, (sustainable) business models, supply chain management
  • Programme theory, realist evaluation
  • Qualitative and quantitative research methods

Applicants should clearly outline how their profile aligns with the proposed project and outline specific perspectives and research questions they would want to focus on.

Supervisory Team

Dr Frederik Dahlmann, Warwick Business School

Dr Frederik Dahlmann is Associate Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at Warwick Business School. His research interests focus on understanding how organisations respond to and integrate global sustainability challenges such as the UN SDGs into their business strategies, management practices and corporate governance systems. Specifically, he examines how companies address climate change and reduce corporate carbon emissions across their organisations and supply chains, their engagement with multiple sustainability challenges such as the energy-food-water nexus, and the role of sustainable business models in driving industry transformation.

Dr Joanna Fleming, Warwick Medical School

Dr Jo Fleming is Senior Research Fellow at Warwick Medical School, and currently works on a variety of projects at the Unit of Academic Primary Care. These have included evaluating a proactive care initiative for older people living with frailty, the INQUIRE study (Improving NHS Quality Using Internet Ratings and Experiences), the impact of a telephone first approach in primary care on older people and their carers (OPTEL) and engagement with and delivery of the parkrun practice initiative in primary care. Her research interests also lie in health promotion and behaviour change, and the role of primary care in addressing the climate emergency.

Professor Jeremy Dale, Warwick Medical School

Professor Jeremy Dale is Professor of Primary Care at Warwick Medical School and a GP in Coventry. He is a health services researcher with extensive experience of qualitative studies, quantitative studies and clinical trials. Research interests relate to the organisation and delivery of primary care, including its interfaces with emergency care and primary care, out of hours care; decision-making and decision support; the evaluation of new models of care; self-management in diabetes; and primary palliative care. Recent research activity has included work with Dr Dahlmann and Dr Fleming related to primary care and climate change.

External Mentorship

The supervisors involved in this proposal have a wide range of contacts established across the NHS, the Royal College of General Practitioners, and other Clinical Commissioning Group stakeholders as well as industry. Upon confirmation of the applicant and the envisaged research focus, we will work together to identify and appoint a specific individual as external mentor to support the development of this research.