The importance of sustainability climbed the local, national and international agenda during the year. Since the first NHS Digital Sustainability Development Plan in 2017, we have made good progress in implementing local NHS Digital objectives, including efficiency improvements in our estate and through smarter working. This has delivered annual reductions of about 15% in gas and electricity consumption in our buildings, a 20% cut in water use and a 20% fall in business travel mileage.
The adoption of smarter working practices across NHS Digital, and in our interactions with partners, has accelerated markedly since March 2020, during the initial period of the COVID-19 response. This was forced upon us and was necessary to continuing our work, but it has helped us move to more efficient working patterns and uses of technology.
Similarly, the forced acceleration of digital collaboration as a result of the pandemic is enabling wider sustainability benefits. For example, the deployment of Microsoft Teams across the healthcare system through NHSMail has promoted more flexible and sustainable working practices at scale immediately. The benefits of this should endure. The rapid growth of our digital services at scale – such as the NHS App, greater use of online services such as NHS 111 online, the extension of electronic prescribing to a dispenser of the user’s choice, and support for the deployment of remote collaboration and consultation services across the healthcare system – is also creating a significant and positive sustainability impact.
A critical contribution to sustainability is made by more efficient and effective use of our infrastructure services. We have made initial steps in optimising our on-premise data centre consumption by moving some of NHS Digital’s workloads to the Crown Hosting co-location services, which are much more efficient, and also by adopting more public cloud-based services. In the coming year, we will take a more strategic stance in optimising the use of both local organisations’ infrastructure and their cloud-based solutions. We will work with other NHS partners to drive the optimisation of infrastructure consumption and efficiency across the health and social care technology arena. A revised sustainability effort is being mobilised from NHS Digital and will include work across our Networks and Infrastructure teams, as well as our technology suppliers, to mobilise a strategy and plan for the health and social care system.