From reducing waiting times to increasing mental health services, in recent years the NHS has come up with a variety of different policies in a bid to improve its track record for meeting the needs of patients.

Never has it been more important than now, under the looming threat of budget cuts – but what about when it comes to meeting the needs of the environment? What is the NHS doing to become an eco-friendly public body?

Recycling, waste management, digital advancements – we’re having a look at current efforts to meet green standards of working, as the NHS faces one of the most challenging financial periods in its history.

NHS Sustainable Development Unit

The NHS has been committed to improving its environmental standards for years now, with 2008 seeing the creation of the Sustainable Development Unit (SDU) to work on behalf of health and care services in England.

With a focus on environmental – as well social and financial – sustainability, the SDU undertakes research and develops tools to help both organisations and individuals adapt to climate change by advancing frameworks for sustainability.

A reduced carbon footprint

So far, the SDU has worked to track the carbon footprint of NHS England, and the results are illuminating.

Their most recent figures, published in January of this year, reveal that the NHS England carbon footprint is now 2.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents. This shows a decrease of 11 per cent since 2007 and is a clear sign of positive change.

Embracing greener ways of working

To continue this momentum, the SDU also published a report on further actions and steps the NHS should be taking to continue reducing its carbon footprint and lessen its environmental impact.

According to the National Health Executive, “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.”

These recommendations include teleconferencing between patients and doctors, and a switch to energy efficient lighting and heating. It also discussed the important of waste management, and particularly decreasing the amount of waste produced by the NHS – another hot topic of the moment.

Calls for further action

Many industry leaders believe there is still more to be done to save money and move towards a greener NHS, starting with waste management.

It’s already a highly regulated part of the NHS, with a strict policy in place regarding the separation of waste. This includes the use of a sharps container and colour-coded receptacles to limit toxic leaks or cross-contamination.

But Terry Tudor, senior lecturer at the University of Northampton, thinks there’s plenty of room for improvement at a fundamental level: “Employee perceptions largely govern issues such as effective segregation of waste materials and energy conversation within the workplace. So effecting behaviour change is a key challenge.”

Finding the budget

In his eyes, training and an enhanced physical infrastructure – with a look towards implementing a circular economy of reuse in terms of equipment – will allow for sustainable change. And here’s where we come to the biggest sticking point – budget.

These kinds of changes require significant investment to implement, at a time when the NHS is severely strapped for cash. Therefore, the process towards a greener NHS will involve a delicate balancing act of finances and regulations.

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One Comment

  1. Alan Rogers says:

    It is a small contribution but not spending £20 million a year on hospital chaplains would show NHS England understands the need for making hard choices as demand grows and resources stretched. The religious care of patients is the responsibility of the religion industry not the state.

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