Setting the wheels in motion for a green future

The new SHSC Green Plan sets out a vision for sustainability at the Trust. Ahead of its launch we look at the reasons for it and why it’s set to become a strategy we’ll all be reading (yes, you read that right).

Back in October 2020 the NHS became the world’s first health service to commit to becoming ‘carbon net zero’ by 2040. It set out a vision to cut carbon emissions to protect health, not just in England but across the world.

That commitment linked the changing climate to negative health implications: Asthma, heart disease, lung cancer, Lyme’s disease to name a few, as well as mental health conditions like anxiety and stress. A broad point it made is that climate change is having a negative effect on health in many ways, and the NHS must treat the causes as well as the symptoms.

Fast forward nearly two years and new data from the Office for National Statistics shows that climate change is already having an impact, with increased hospital admissions in England a direct consequence. It’s clear that the time to act is now.

Of course, the NHS can’t halt climate change on its own, but as one of the largest employers in the country, it can lead the way. And sustainability is not just about reducing carbon emissions. New ways of working, new buildings, hospitals and spaces will need to be future proof so that they stand the test of time. A new NHS building today should be built to last, to care for babies born in 2022 for the rest of their lives, from cradle to grave.

So how does Sheffield fit into all that? The Green City has a reputation as a big verdant village rather than a post-industrial city. But while parts of it really are green (with an estimated 4.5 million trees), it’s a diverse and complicated modern city with some stark social and health inequalities: there’s a 10 year difference between the poorest and most affluent areas of the city. 

This means that any changes we make, to our services, estates, ways of working, must be in the interests of the diverse communities we serve. 

And as one of the city’s major employers, SHSC is in a great position to lead the way in building sustainable solutions to reduce our carbon footprint and create services that will deliver for the people of Sheffield for years to come.

Our new Green Plan, due to be published February 2022, sets out how SHSC will become more sustainable and deliver on NHS Net Zero targets. It will be publicly available and is a key part of our vision to improve the mental, physical and social wellbeing of the people in our communities.

When we spoke to Sarah Ellison, Sustainability Lead at SHSC, she was hopeful that the Green Plan will provide a framework for cooperative working to achieve its aims: “All of us making small changes at work and at home really will make a huge difference to how we can have a positive impact on our wellbeing, the environment and our communities.

“The Green Plan will be delivered by all of us at SHSC. We are all vital in making the changes that need to happen. So the new Green Plan will set out the SHSC ambition, but staff, service users, our partners and our communities will be need to be active in finding shared solutions to create sustainable ways of delivering care.” 

At SHSC we’re already doing lots to reduce our carbon footprint. In 2019 we switched our energy supplier, so that now all our electricity comes from renewable sources. We’re replacing our old diesel vans with electric vehicles, improving our green spaces and planting trees at our sites to store carbon in the ground and create more therapeutic spaces for our service users. We’ve also been trialling a scheme to encourage us to use ebikes at work instead of cars.

It’s vital that any changes are made across the board, with the buy in of everyone who might be affected by or need to put something new into practice. Our ‘small changes, big impact’ project is right now asking for our people to share ideas for how we can improve the environmental sustainability of our services and reduce our carbon footprint.

These are projects are some of our first steps on the path to being carbon net zero. Our Green Plan will provide is a map to help us stick to that path in the years to come.

Working from home

For many of us home working is the new normal as businesses adapt to the pandemic. Working from home is great and offers lots of flexibility, but it can be a difficult thing to adapt to if you’ve never done it before.

Here are five top tips to help you make the most of home working.

  • Routine - Get up, have a shower, get dressed and eat breakfast before you start work. Avoid the temptation to just roll out of bed straight into work.
  • Space - Have a dedicated space to work in. Sitting on the sofa might be comfortable but it won’t help your posture in the long term.
  • Breaks - You’ll be looking at a screen most of the day so make sure you take regular breaks. Don’t feel guilty about stepping away for a few minutes, just because you are at home doesn’t mean you don’t get a break.
  • Boundaries - It’s easy to blur the line between work and home life when you aren’t leaving the house. Have set hours that you work and stick to them.
  • Keep in touch - Those human interactions at work are really important. Don’t just email, pick up the phone or better still, do a video call.

"Let us learn from the past. Let us work in the present. Let us build for the future."

Follow a religion? Insane. Unmarried with a child? Insane. Getting excited about an election? Insane. Freedom is a privilege which people have fought and died for, and many of these very real reasons for which we took it away from people have thankfully died too. Treatment for people with mental health conditions has advanced enormously since its early models, but it’s worth hauling the iron gates open and taking a look at where we have come from in Sheffield.

In 1872 those gates were swung open on a state-of-the-art facility – the South Yorkshire Asylum, later Middlewood Mental Hospital.

The reasons people were admitted to Middlewood could be far from anything we would recognise today.

‘Disappointment in marriage’, ‘religious excitement’ and even ‘dog bites’ were all reasons listed.

The Victorian approach to mental health was all about the containment of these ‘inmates,’ ‘madmen’ or ‘lunatics’ as they were referred to. No discussion, no noise, no problem.

But Sharon Booth, a HR Adviser at SHSC, has had a unique insight about Middlewood passed down. Her great grandfather and grandfather worked there - the former retired as Chief Male Nurse in 1933 - and her father was born on the grounds and allowed to roam where he pleased as he grew up there. He had complete freedom within this 92-acre confinement, the leisure to explore the unseen and survey the unspoken.

Thanks to items Sharon has kept, we can delve into the history of Middlewood. In 1921’s ‘Handbook for Attendants on the Insane’ it was seen as “a house for the protection of the insane” where they would be treated with opium, baths and measures of restraint. This approach was a step away from the workhouse in Kelham Island where, in the 1870s, people were treated as inmates and chained.

But as understanding advanced, so did the treatment provided.

A 1967 edition of the hospital’s Contact magazine said: “Yesterday has gone, even though we live sometimes under its shadow. Today is here with all its opportunities and achievements. But tomorrow has yet to dawn with its known and unknown challenges. Let us learn from the past. Let us work in the present. Let us build for the future.”

By 1996 the hospital was closed.

Fast forward 26 years later and tomorrow has come. There’s now a focus on caring for people in their own communities and on recovery, while talking therapies and self-help materials are championed too.

Last year we launched our first strategy dedicated to ensuring our restrictive practices are reduced to the least possible amount. We are moving to a culture of care where patients and staff feel safe and where therapeutic interventions are at the heart of everything we do.

Environments are paramount to this approach  and new therapeutic areas are being built with access to gym facilities, sensory gardens and welcoming bedrooms and shared spaces. These have been designed to help people get better quicker and learn techniques to help them stay well for longer.

Of the new changes, Sharon says: “I think my grandfather would have looked at how things are now and been a lot more content because of his nature and his idea of supporting people.

“He would have liked a lot of the changes in terms of how we support talking therapies. I think he would have seen that as a really good advancement.”

Tomorrow has come, but we still strive to build for the future, for the benefit of everybody.

A healthy mind: one step at a time

Going for a run, heading uphill. We feel our lungs taking the strain, then it hits our legs as the burn comes on, eventually spreading to the whole body as we swing our arms and stomp forward to reach the horizon. Bent double at the top searching for air, we know we’ve done well by our body. Our muscles will grow from this experience, we’ll receive a thank you from the heart. But we often forget that we’ve also helped another part of ourselves – our brain.

Regular physical activity reduces your risk of dementia and depression by 30%.

You could do 150 minutes per week of things like walking or shopping, or 75 minutes of playing football, swimming or doing weights.

This activity improves your confidence and self-esteem, helps your brain work better, gives you activities to enjoy and, simply put, makes you happier.

You also often interact with other people in these situations which is great for our mental health.

There’s a scientific explanation too. Nicoletta Lekka, Consultant Psychiatrist at SHSC, says: “We know that chronic inflammation can cause depression and poor mental health. Physical activity has positive effects on mental health because it can reduce inflammation. It also lowers inflammation in the brain, which may be the reason it can lower the risk of dementia such as Alzheimer’s and can benefit the cognitive functioning of older people.”

But despite all of these benefits, just 61.4% of us in England are considered active. 20 million of us are physically inactive. We spend more than seven hours per day in a sedentary position, sitting or lying down, and that only increases as we get older or become unwell. Whereas if we stay active through early, adult and older life, we can actually avoid the risk of becoming less able altogether.

What to do then? The answer is to move more, and enjoy it. Do it gently and to your own pace. If you live with a medical condition then it might feel daunting, but physical activity is safe and the benefits outweigh any risks.

It’s about living actively as much as you can. A generally sedentary life with two gym sessions a week only just takes you to the threshold you want to be at. It’s much better to just take two minutes a few times a day to take the stairs, walk back from the shops with your bags or get off the bus one stop early after work.

There are loads of local options to help you get going too - like Parkrun events across Sheffield, health-friendly walks from Step Out Sheffield or punch bag exercises with Mental Mate.

So forget about all the gear, hill sprints and squats – you don’t have to be gasping for air at the top of a steep incline. Just move your body and feel the benefits, whatever that means for you.

Your mind will thank you.