NHS 'should prioritise climate change'

The NHS should place a higher priority on combating carbon emissions and reducing energy consumption, according to sustainable development unit director David Pencheon.

As the unit's first draft carbon strategy Saving Carbon, Improving Health, is in a consultation stage. Mr Pencheon, told the Health Service Journal (HSJ) that its goals were in the operational third tier.

The strategy sets out a target of cutting NHS emissions, currently at one million tonnes a year, by 60 per cent by 2050, with an interim target of 15 per cent cut by 2010.

According to a new economics foundation (Nef) report, the NHS also spends £400 million a year on energy bills but Mr Pencheon says tackling these issues is a low priority.

He told the HSJ: "Evidence suggests that sustainability and climate change are increasingly important and the NHS has a huge part to play. There's a case to be made for promoting that target from tier three."

But Andrew Way, chief executive of the Royal Free Hampstead trust noted that the NHS has other targets to hit, such as MRSA and the 18-week referral to treatment time.

He added that soaring oil costs' impact on the bottom line would have to change the way trusts behaved.

There are examples of trusts taking steps to reduce emissions. Three Cornwall trusts source food locally, replacing an old system in which sandwiches were delivered from Oxford.

The Royal Free Hampstead trust is also putting green transport schemes into place.

According to the strategy document, 59 per cent of the NHS's carbon footprint is from procurement and 18 per cent from travel, while the Nef report claims that five per cent of all the UK's road transport emissions are down to NHS-related trips.

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