NHS should bring in measures to reduce its carbon footprint, BMA says

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 03 April 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:740

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  1. Susan Mayor
  1. 1London

    The NHS should urgently introduce measures to reduce its energy consumption and emission of greenhouse gases, recommends a report published this week by the BMA. This includes reducing the amount of travel by patients and staff and making greater use of electronic communication, the report says. It warns that the NHS currently produces emissions equivalent to about a million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year and accounts for 5% of all road transport emissions in the United Kingdom.

    The report reviews the potential effects on health of climate change and makes a range of recommendations on measures that the NHS and health professionals can take to reduce the contribution of their work to climate change. It notes that the NHS is the largest single organisation in the UK, employing more than one million people. NHS healthcare facilities spend £400m (€500m; $800m) each year on energy.

    “As the biggest employer in the UK, and one with a considerable carbon footprint, the NHS needs to take urgent action to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and the contribution it makes to climate change,” recommend the BMA’s science and education department and its board of science, whose members developed the report. They say that commitment from the NHS executive and board is crucial to achieving the large scale change required, which should including developing and implementing policies on construction, electricity use, heating, water management, transport, and waste management.

    Five per cent of the UK’s road transport emissions are attributed to NHS related journeys by staff, patients, and visitors, 83% of which are by car or van, the report says. It recommends that the NHS develop a more environmentally friendly transport policy, including encouraging patients to be treated closer to home; minimising the number of deliveries and pick ups to avoid unnecessary trips; using low carbon vehicles and fuels; and encouraging healthcare professionals to use public transport where possible.

    The report cites several examples of good practice. For example, the Royal Cornhill Hospital in Aberdeen uses telemedicine to reduce the amount of travel by patients and staff. The hospital also runs peripheral clinics, whereby one or two specialists travel to run outpatient clinics in general practices in remote and rural areas, rather than several patients travelling to the hospital.

    The BMA also encourages health professionals to carry out carbon audits at work and at home, to give baseline figures from which targets can be set and progress monitored. Heating accounts for the largest proportion of energy used in primary health care, so the report suggests that staff turn down unnecessary heating and air conditioning systems and ensure that refrigerators and freezers are set for optimal energy efficiency. It says that healthcare organisations should communicate with other healthcare professionals and patients by email or telephone wherever possible.

    “As well as reducing their own carbon footprint and negative environmental impact, health professionals are in a position to influence others and promote social change,” the report says. It concludes, “Health professionals have a history of combating major public health concerns and are well placed to play a vital role in combating climate change and the related adverse effects on health.”


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