The NHS has announced plans to step up action to tackle the climate “health emergency” over the next year, in order to help prevent illness, reduce pressure on A&Es, and save “tens of thousands” of lives.

NHS chief Sir Simon Stevens announced the initiative following the launch of the Climate Assembly UK, which is discussing how the country can best get to “net zero”.

The campaign, dubbed “For a Greener NHS”, will address both the causes of climate change and air pollution, as the health and care system in England is responsible for an estimated 4-5% of the country’s carbon footprint.

The launch comes just after a recent study has found that on high pollution days there are 673 additional out-of-hospital cardiac arrests and hospital admissions for stroke and asthma, with spikes in ambulance 999 call outs.

It also comes off the back of a group of 175 doctors warning that air pollution is directly adding to current pressures in accident and emergency departments.

The NHS says that it will be taking immediate action in 2020, with a proposed new Standard Contract calling on hospitals to reduce carbon from buildings and estates, whilst switching to less polluting anaesthetic gases, better asthma inhalers, and encouraging more active travel for staff.

“With almost 700 people dying potentially avoidable deaths due to air pollution every week we are facing a health emergency as well as a climate emergency,” stated Sir Simon Stevens.

He continued, “Patients and the public rightly want the NHS to deliver for them today, and to help safeguard the future health of our children and grandchildren.

“While the NHS is already a world leader in sustainability, as the biggest employer in this country comprising nearly a tenth of the UK economy, we’re both part of the problem and part of the solution.

“Indeed if health services across the world were their own country, they’d be the fifth-largest emitter on the planet.

“That’s why today we are mobilising our 1.3million staff to take action for a greener NHS, and it’s why we’ll be working with the world’s leading experts to help set a practical, evidence-based and ambitious date for the NHS to reach net zero.”

The ‘For A Greener NHS’ campaign will be supported by the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change.