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Hospitals urged to save money while improving environmental impact

Measures to help the NHS both save money and reduce its environmental impact have been proposed in a new report from the Sustainable Development Unit (SDU).

The report sets out 35 interventions which, if they are all implemented, could save £414m and 1.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year by 2020. This would also help tackle issues such as air pollution and fuel poverty, which contribute to health problems.

The interventions include using teleconferencing between doctors and patients and supplying mental health care to people in hospital for physical problems to reduce the distance travelled, implementing biomass boilers, making use of lighting and heating more efficient, and reducing material waste such as theatre kit packaging and anaesthetic gases.

David Pencheon, director of the SDU, said: “We know that the NHS and health sector is facing its greatest financial challenge, and we need to seize every opportunity to realise savings and efficiencies.

“But we also know that seeking financial savings without considering the long term social and environmental implications can be dangerously short sighted in terms of health protection and improvement.

“This report and supporting resources help organisations to identify opportunities that can save money now and have a positive environmental effect – which will save money and improve health, now and in the future.”

The newly launched UK Health Alliance on Climate Change has urged the NHS to do more to consider the dangers of climate change as a health issue.

The SDU report also said that reducing the environmental impact of the NHS could help deliver the savings and service improvements set out in the Carter Review and the Five Year Forward View.

The report highlighted a number of hospitals which have already successfully introduced sustainability measures. For example, Rampton Hospital replaced a coal fired heat plant with a combined heat and power unit and a wood chip boiler, reducing energy usage by 44% and saving £790,000 and 8,614 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.

Similarly, North East Ambulance Trust fitted telematics technology, including speed limiters, on 50 vehicles. This saved 3 million litres of fuel, £100,000 and 250 tonnes of carbon dioxide, as well as reducing the risk of accidents and improving patient experience.

Working with energy efficiency verification specialists EEVS and sustainability software vendor Trakeo, the SDU has developed Your Carbon Cost Benefit Curve, an online tool that allows users to calculate the financial and carbon greenhouse gas savings from using the interventions. For instance, by using a range of metrics SDU says an average-sized hospital with 3,000 staff and 60,000 operations a year could save up to £2.2m and 3,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide – the equivalent to taking 1,300 cars off the road for a year.

Michael Brodie, finance and commercial director for Public Health England (PHE), said: “In addition to the legal and scientific reasons for taking sustainable development and climate change seriously, there are equally important financial and organisational reasons for action.

“In PHE, we have already saved millions of pounds and reduced our carbon footprint by rationalising processes and estate, empowering our staff and the public with the latest opportunities in IT. We will continue to work with our partners in health and local government to create the right conditions for a fair, healthy and sustainable future for us all.”

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