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This week I was able to attend the NHS Sustainability Day Roadshow in Exeter, and as always, I found it both motivational and extremely frustrating. 

The presentations covered the importance of moving away from a meat based diet; innovative ways of using our rubbish to create new products such as furniture; new types of essential healthcare equipment and a lot about the research that highlights how our current activities are threatening our health and well-being, and therefore the urgent need for society to change dramatically.

I generally really enjoy these events, hearing about the work going on around me to improve our environment and understanding how I can play my part.  However, recently, I have also found them frustrating as I feel unable to effect the changes I would like to make.  The NHS is in crisis, that much seems to be widely acknowledged, but it feels to someone inside the system, that instead of sitting down calmly and working out how to reduce demand for services and ensure that the system is manageable economically, it is running around like a headless chicken, making a superficial change here and there in the hope of a miracle.  These changes are like second hand plasters, they do not work and they don’t try to solve the underlying issues.

Some of the key issues in the sustainability agenda would seek to address factors that impact on all of us.  If we could improve our environment by adding more green spaces, particularly in urban areas, we would be helping our health in three key areas – 1) it has been shown that time spent in the natural environment can help alleviate stress which is a major factor in areas such as the heart, cancers and mental health: 2) more trees would help improve the air quality in our urban areas – it is no secret that Treliske Hospital in Truro has the worst air quality in the area – not great for the sickest, oldest and youngest in our society: 3) more green spaces help alleviate the effects of climate change – intense heat and flooding.

Our diet is slowly (and sometimes not so slowly) killing us.  Increased consumption brings with it the problems of obesity which leads to a rise in heart disease, bowel disease and cancers among other things.  Our demand for cheap food has led to a huge growth in factory farming meaning that animals are enduring appalling conditions in order to satisfy our appetites.

By planting trees and flowers instead of concreting and building everywhere, and moving to a more plant based diet, we could improve our health and that of our environment, and that should lead to a big reduction on demand for healthcare.  We should be concentrating on preventative spending rather than waiting till ill health strikes and sticking a plaster on it.

The sustainability agenda is not just for a few eccentric hippies, it is for us all to embrace in order to protect and enhance our health.

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