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BMJ. 2007 June 30; 334(7608): 1343.
PMCID: PMC1906607

NHS is told it must play its part in tackling climate change

Clinicians have been urged to play their part in helping the NHS to reduce its carbon footprint.

The NHS emits one million tonnes of carbon a year as one of the largest and most resource hungry organisations in the world, says a report published by the independent think tank the New Economics Foundation.

The report, produced for the NHS Confederation (the body that represents NHS organisations), says that the NHS spends around £400m (€600m; $800m) every year on energy and that it must take steps to try to reduce the effect this is having on the environment.

Every year, says the report, the NHS is responsible for 5% of all the UK's emissions from road transport. The scale of what the NHS does is enormous, says the report—there are one million contacts with patients every 36 hours—but with this comes huge potential to promote positive change.

It says that the NHS will have to work hard to reduce its energy consumption and meet the target set in the UK energy white paper of reducing emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2010 and 60% by 2050.

It adds that climate change will affect the general health of the UK population because a warmer and more variable climate may mean an increase in the incidence of heat related deaths, insect-borne disease, and respiratory disease.

The solutions proposed in the report include:

  • Eliminating the estimated 90 kilotonnes of CO2 emitted each year by the 166 acute hospital trusts in England when idle computers and screens are left on unnecessarily, and
  • Improving the design of buildings and the working environment to cut energy costs by a quarter.

Speaking at the NHS Confederation's annual conference in London, the leading environmentalist Jonathon Porritt, programme director of the Forum for the Future and chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission, emphasised the need for action.

The Department of Health was “sort of” tackling the issue, he said, with its action plan and steering group and the offer of cash incentives to trusts. Trusts, however, had to “get cracking” on reducing emissions and energy consumption and not wait to be “bludgeoned into compliance” by the government, he added.

Although examples of good practice were to be seen in the NHS, these were not the norm yet. He said, “Every single NHS organisation has got to understand the reality of living in a carbon constrained world. You have to make sustainable development the central organising principle of everything you are now doing.”

The NHS Confederation's chief executive, Gill Morgan, said: “By addressing some key aspects such as energy use, transport, and waste the NHS can have a considerable impact on reducing not only its carbon footprint but also its costs.

“If NHS trusts meet the target to cut energy consumption by 15%, the NHS will save £50m per year on energy bills—the equivalent of building one small hospital or performing 7000 heart bypass operations.”

Notes

Taking the Temperature: Towards an NHS Response to Global Warming is available at www.nhsconfed.org/about/publications.cfm.


Articles from The BMJ are provided here courtesy of BMJ Publishing Group