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Creating a new NHS England: NHS England and NHS Digital merged on 1 February 2023. More about the merger.

Part of Sustainability Annual Report 2020-21

Summary of highlights from 2020-21

For this year’s annual report, we provide examples of process-based interventions and the adjustments of existing processes that have further enabled and strengthened sustainability and resilience across our organisation.

How we buy

We partner with our suppliers to help explore and unblock barriers to the procurement of low or zero environmental impact products and services.

Commercial update

Our commercial team is on a journey to drive social value into the full commercial lifecycle. They are developing and building knowledge, skills and resources to ensure best practice is applied across NHS Digital’s procurement activities. Social value across government consists of five key themes which encourage additional social benefits through the procurement activities we run.

They are:

  • COVID-19 recovery
  • tackling economic inequality
  • fighting climate change
  • equal opportunity
  • wellbeing

To ensure we are embedding these key changes to how we procure goods and services across the organisation we have:

Updated our commercial strategy, policies, and procedures to ensure our commitments to social value are central to our Commercial Operating model. This incorporates the revised Cabinet Office requirements that came into effect at the start of 2020 (Procurement Policy Note (PPN) 06/20) which mandates that we must apply “a minimum weighting of 10% of the total score for social value (for relevant) procurements.”

A standard Social Value Model toolkit has been developed by Cabinet Office which aims to drive a consistent application of the PPN across Government and we have built this into our templates and procedures. Our internal approval panel, the Finance and Commercial Assurance Panel (FCAP), now captures and manages the governance and adherence to this requirement and we will continue to learn and update.

We are a Leeds anchor organisationwhich looks to drive collaboration in several areas including procurement to the benefit of the local communities. Working with Leeds Council, local universities and hospital trusts along with Yorkshire Water, the British Library, and numerous others we are developing our relationships across the city region to drive best practice. Local authorities have been applying social value since 2012, so we can learn a lot from them as we develop our own approach.

All commercial staff have completed the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS) Ethics training which we are now accredited for. 

Communicated with our supplier base through Tech UK events, discussing the social value model and our application of it. To aid the work we do with suppliers, whether existing or potential new ones, we have developed a social value charter which communicates our definition of Social Value and provides suppliers with details of the themes we will apply to our tendering procedures.

How we work

We recognise that in the post COVID-19 world, our organisational boundary and our responsibilities blend into the home setting due to hybrid working.  

Human resources

During 2020/21 the Human Resources (HR) and organisational transformation team began integrating sustainability into existing wellbeing and recruitment activities.  In partnership with the sustainability team, the first climate distress awareness workshops took place and job descriptions featured general responsibilities in this area for the first time. 

Our mental health first aiders received training and information on climate distress and anxiety and how to support colleagues who may be experiencing. A webinar was made available to the whole organisation with guest speakers from the Climate Psychology Alliance. This was well attended and gave information about why climate distress and anxiety can be different to other anxieties and signposted employees to relevant sources and organisations who can provide additional support.

As part of the Mental Health First Aider service, we have been running virtual walk and talks to encourage people to get out in nature and to incorporate gentle exercise into the working day, as well as providing further opportunity to talk to a mental health first aider. Virtual events with the mental health first aiders have helped to improve wellbeing by helping people get out in nature, meet other people and gain support.

Estates and facilities

Sustainability matters to our estates team, and all capital improvement projects feature sustainability at their core. Whilst the last year has been challenging, we have managed to employ environmental policies in our dilapidation works as part of our migration to the new Leeds Government Hub. This involved exiting four buildings in Leeds, which saw thousands of desks, chairs and other office furniture needing to be disposed of in an ethical, safe manner with minimum environmental impact. Our largest win has been through diverting all furniture waste away from landfill, either through donations to schools and charities or for upcycling. If the furniture was unfit for either of these, we sent furniture for recycling. Masses of paper waste was diverted to confidential waste, where all waste is recycled. We used local companies to facilitate the move to our new office to keep mileage down. And we turned off heating and air conditioning as early in the process as possible and used the least number of contractors possible to help see efficiency throughout the process.

Furthermore, our COVID-19 procurement, whilst needing to be balanced with speed and staff well-being maintained an eye on sustainability. Cleaning products and hand sanitiser were procured in refillable packaging or in bulk to minimise waste, desk dividers used were made from fully recyclable materials where viable and deliveries were kept to a minimum through consolidation of our suppliers.

Our Exeter office refurbishment completed in May 2021. We are proud that this refurbishment achieved some ‘NHS Digital firsts’ in terms of our environmental improvements. From Solar PV installations, acoustic planters, to a drive for sustainable materials and construction. We used recycled carpet, sourced furniture made from sustainable fabrics, installed low flow taps and installed new high-efficiency AC units. Furthermore, we installed efficient aluminium windows and doors and significantly consolidated our communications room equipment and cooling machinery.

NHS Digital Estates team continue to consider the environment in all we do and set the standard for public sector organisations of our size.

ICT Re-use

The ICT (TechServices) function have made a fantastic effort to follow the waste hierarchy when disposing of ICT waste. Much of our ICT waste has either been donated to charities or schools or for commercial sale. Other ICT assets were recycled if they were broken and did not contain hazardous materials.

TechServices has been putting old Surface Pro 4 tablets to good use by donating some of our devices to several schools in Devon, Exmouth. St. Peter's, Budleigh Salterton school launched a computer fundraiser in January 2021 to help their pupils who had to home school but did not have access to or could not afford computers or tablets.

Every year TechServices, in-line with security policies, donate a percentage of refurbished devices that have reached the end of their product lifecycle to charities. This year, the team was delighted to be able to help children who are finding home learning difficult during a particularly challenging time for a lot of families. In total, NHS Digital donated a total of 151 Surface Pro 4’s to charities and schools.

Tech services donate laptops to schools

Surface Pro 4 tablets donated to St Peter's, Budleigh Salterton school campaign to support school children without access to computers Thank you #WhatWeDoMatters 

Photograph of man and school child holding laptops in a school.

How we deliver

We create, share, and drive best practice uptake for sustainable tech and data services across the health and care system. We actively work with stakeholders in the health and care system to collaborate on processes that enable health-sector efficiency and carbon reduction.  

Risk and resilience

During 2020, NHS Digital delivered to unprecedented levels. However, delivering so much, at such pace, in an emerging and unclear clinical context, with employees working remotely and coping with their own personal experiences and demands of the pandemic, our organisational risk position changed.

This change led to renewed focus on our operational risk position, and our board and audit and risk committee sought additional assurances to ensure effective plans were in place to appropriately respond. A review of operational risks led to sustainability being elevated to the top table, alongside other strategic priority areas.

Sustainability principle introduced to enterprise architecture

Digital services need to be ‘resilient’. That is - robust and able to withstand and respond to changes arising out of the environmental emergency. 

The impact of digital services on 'embodied emissions' or ecological and social impact from mining and manufacture (that is, the environmental cost of producing and disposing of IT equipment) should be considered. 

Sustainable architecture principle

1. Minimise data retention and resolution.

2. Code efficiently.

3. Limit architectural obsolescence.

4. Provide access that minimises end user device numbers - in favour of promoting access to our services via low energy devices, such as tablet and mobile.  

5. Carefully consider the benefits of utilising artificial intelligence or machine learning - to ensure benefit outweighs energy requirements. 


Architects should consider the impact of climate change in their work from 3 perspectives, in addition to the other principles.

Direct impacts

Architects should:

  • set non-functional requirements that meet your optimum specification while balancing commercial impact
  • design services that make best use of resources to reduce cost and carbon emission

Impact on suppliers 

Architects should:

  • select suppliers considering their carbon footprint 
  • work with the supply chain to reduce impact

Impact on customers 

Architects should:

  • promote the move to environmentally sustainable cloud services 
  • promote digital by default as a principle, reducing CO2 in health and care business processes 
  • minimise the impacts for the health and care system, such as client devices and two-factor authentication

Last edited: 27 October 2022 11:33 am