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Friday 21st October 2016

NHS can care for climate too

4th December 2009

The government needs to match its bold ambitions with stronger action if it is to hit its own targets on climate change, a new report on the sustainability of Britain’s health service claims.

As the country’s largest employer – and the fourth largest in the world – the NHS is responsible for a quarter of all public sector emissions in the UK.

As world leaders prepare for next week’s UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen, experts claim that becoming more sustainable would cut emissions, save money and improve clinical quality.

A report by healthcare consultancy, Finnamore, claims that in order to hit government targets, the NHS must turn a 1.5% growth in emissions each year into an annual reduction of more than 3%.

Authors Stephen Hay and Jonathan Pearson argue: “The NHS is responsible for1% of all household waste in the UK, and in 2007 – 2008, waste cost the taxpayer £71.2 million.

“If it simply recycled all its paper, cardboard, magazines and newspapers, the NHS could save 42,000 tons of CO2 per annum, the equivalent of taking 17,000 cars off the road.”

There are examples of successful projects already reaping carbon, and financial, gains – but they are not systematic or broad enough.

A project to refurbish lighting at the Prince Charles Hospital at Merthyr Tydfil, for example, reduced energy consumption by 61% and led to savings of £50,000 a year – at a cost of just £150,000.

Elsewhere, Derby Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has saved more than £600,000 over four years by appointing environmental champions to help reduce energy consumption.

And on a broader scale, placing greater emphasis on preventing chronic diseases and moving care out of hospitals and into the community will also help cut both carbon and costs.

What is required, the report claims, is strong leadership at the very top of the NHS.

Just as the NHS is looking to learn lessons from the private sector as it aspires to world class commissioning, it should also be benchmarking itself against the best of the private sector when it comes to reducing its carbon footprint.

“The scale of the challenge facing the NHS in terms of managing its carbon footprint over the next 40 years is daunting,” it says.

“The Department of Health has identified all the major areas in which carbon gains should initially be made but too little appears to be happening and too slowly if targets are to be met.

“As the NHS faces a period of austerity, the fact that early gains to be had from sustainability pay for themselves very quickly should be exploited.”

Although cost is a major factor, companies such as BMW and Walmart have proven that driving sustainability also reaps other benefits, including improved employee engagement – which leads to higher morale and reduced turnover of staff - and enhanced consumer perception, which is increasingly important to the NHS in an era of improving the overall patient experience.

The report concludes: “While the targets that need to be hit with regard to carbon are demanding, it is worth remembering that the forces driving change – environmental, financial and regulatory – are pointing in broadly the same direction.

“The missing ingredient in many places is a sense of urgency and willingness to make sustainability a real priority … To turn this around we need to see sustainability not as an ‘add-on’ but as a central driver of innovation, economic productivity and health improvement.”

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