Securing healthy returns through sustainability

29 Jun 16

A focus on making NHS buildings and services cleaner and greener can generate significant savings

In difficult financial times, the NHS and finance professionals within it will welcome any proactive suggestions about cost saving. A recent report, Securing Healthy Returns, by the Sustainable Development Unit for NHS England and Public Health England, outlined areas that offer potential cash savings and environmental benefits.

Its recommendations vary from suggestions to provide mental health services to people being treated for physical health needs in hospitals, encouraging staff to travel to work by bike or foot, and increasing the use of technology for communications – for instance between staff and patients with long term conditions.

The analysis, supported by the Healthcare Financial Management Association, followed on from the Carter Review, which identified potential efficiencies in NHS hospitals worth up to £1.3bn and included interventions with environmental co-benefits such as improved energy efficiency.

In a number of areas, it makes absolute sense given the financial challenges facing the NHS at the moment, and if there are places that money can be saved we should.

There is already a track record where organisations have made significant savings by implementing more environmentally sustainable approaches. For example, York Teaching Hospital built their estates investment plans on the 2010 SDU MAC Curve.  This saw direct investments by the trust, and those through an energy performance contract, include a large combined heat and power system, which has saved £680k in annual energy costs. The trust has reported a net present value for the project of £3m and emission reduction of 24.5% on their baseline, cutting 2,997 tonnes of CO2e.

Other savings in organisations have come from reducing the packaging of theatre kits in hospitals (£11,500), reducing medicine waste (£37,500) and combining heat and power sources (£26,400).

Using existing examples of hospitals taking these environmentally sustainable measures, it has been calculated that, if delivered nationally, these changes alone could save the health sector a further one million tonnes of carbon and £414m each year by 2020.

The suggestions in the report seem like a win-win for budgets, health and the environment. These savings are no-brainers if we want to secure the future of the health service. Over the last eight years there has been more focus on energy saving in hospitals and in that time £1.85bn has been saved in technologies such as LED lighting, insulation and better energy control. It’s also positive to see organisational sustainable development management plans are in place in most NHS organisations. 

Those working in healthcare are more than aware of the fact that the NHS and health sector is facing its greatest financial challenge and need to seize every opportunity to realise savings and efficiencies. Organisations need to make sure any changes are not too short sighted but instead focus on the long-term implications and results.

The report certainly will go someway to helping organisations identify the way savings can be made and go on to have a positive environmental effect which will continue to save money and potentially improve health.

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