Public perceptions of climate change and health (September 2021) Results from an Ipsos MORI survey commissioned by the Health Foundation

October 2021

Key points

  • This report presents the findings of a survey with the UK public commissioned by the Health Foundation and conducted by Ipsos MORI between 22 and 28 July 2021.

  • The results show that there is a high level of concern about the health impacts of climate change. But the NHS’s role as a major contributor to carbon emissions is not well recognised.

  • The net zero NHS ambition has the public’s backing. However, addressing climate change is low down the public’s priorities for the NHS.

  • There is broad public support for a range of measures to reduce the NHS’s carbon footprint. But support falls for proposals that impact individual treatment decisions and care. 

The Health Foundation commissioned Ipsos MORI to carry out a survey with the general public in the UK to gather their views on climate change, health and sustainable health care.

With the NHS aiming to become the world’s first ‘net-zero’ emissions health care system, understanding public views will support the development and implementation of policies to successfully transition to net-zero.

This survey results show:

  • More than four in five (82%) are concerned about climate change. A quarter (25%) see climate change as one of the biggest threats to their health and it is seen as equally significant as accidents/injuries and mental health problems.  

  • The NHS’s role as a major contributor of carbon emissions is not well recognised, with only a quarter of people surveyed believing that the NHS is contributing to climate change. 

  • Although awareness of the NHS’s net zero ambitions is low (13% of the public and 27% of NHS staff surveyed are aware)  there is generally strong support for the policy, with 70% saying they support it and only 6% oppose it.  

  • Despite this support for the NHS net zero ambition, the public do not identify this as a priority. Fewer than half (44%) think the NHS has a responsibility to reduce its impact on climate change and barely one in five (19%) think reducing its impact should be among the NHS’s top priorities.  

  • There is broad public support for a range of measures to reduce the NHS’s carbon footprint. The public are also willing to make changes to their behaviour (for example more than nine in ten would return unused medications). Public support falls for proposals that impact individual treatment decisions and care, such as encouraging patients to manage their conditions at home (39% support and 36% oppose). 

About the survey

The survey was conducted between 22 July and 28 July 2021 amongst residents of the UK aged 16 and over via the Ipsos MORI UK KnowledgePanel. The KnowledgePanel is a random probability online panel with over 15,000 panellists who are recruited using off-line random probability unclustered address-based sampling, the gold-standard in UK survey research. A total of 1858 respondents completed the survey (out of 3,000 who were invited), delivering a response rate of 62%.

As the KnowledgePanel is a random probability survey panel, it does not use a quota approach when conducting surveys; instead, the sample was stratified by nation and education, and the selected sample was then reviewed on key demographics to ensure a balanced sample was selected for the survey.

A weighting spec was applied to the data in line with the target sample profile; this included one which corrected for unequal probabilities of selection of household members (to account for two members who may have been selected from one household), and weights for region, an interlocked variable of Gender by Age, Education, Ethnicity, Index of Multiple Deprivation (quintiles), and number of adults in the household. ONS 2020 mid-year population estimates and Annual Population Survey were used as the weighting target.

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