NHS health trusts are feeling the pinch of skyrocketing energy bills, fuelling fears hospital services may be cut to plug the finance gaps, an investigation has found.

Channel 4 News Online obtained information that expects the NHS to cough up almost £430 million to pay for gas and electricity in 2008/09 – a £165 million price hike on the previous year.

Professor Peter Smith, Director of the Centre for Health Economics at the University of York, warned there could be a downstream effect.

“Although it should not cause a problem to most trusts, there could be a few for whom the extra costs are very serious,” he told Channel 4 News Online.

Norman Lamb, Health Spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said the increase “could have a very disturbing potential impact”.

“Inevitably there is a real concern that there will be a knock-on effect on hospital budgets which could impact on patient care,” he told Channel 4 News Online.

Already, many health trusts have predicted they will overspend as a result of pricing pressures.

For example, Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust has said it expects its bill to be £2 million over original estimates, and East Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust does not fear any better, predicting an overspend of £1 million.

Calls for energy efficiency
The figures have led to calls for greater energy efficiency, but further figures revealed by Channel Four News Online have found only one in five NHS bodies have signed up to cash-saving schemes.

Two years ago, the flagship NHS Carbon Management Programme was launched with the aim to cut hospital bills by assessing lighting, heating, insulation and other ways to reduce energy consumption. Targets set by the Department of Health aim to reduce NHS carbon emissions by 15% by 2010 – currently carbon dioxide emissions for NHS England are approximately 3.7 million tonnes every year; and that is solely from buildings.

However, two years on, and only a fifth of the sector have signed up to the programme.

Though according to the Department of Health, the NHS is on-track to have a 10% improvement in energy performance by 2009/10 compared with a decade earlier.

“While total carbon and CO2 emissions rose by 11% between 1999/00 and 2004/05 due to an increase in NHS estate size it is forecast that emission rates will have reduced by approximately 4.6% to 36.5kg/m2 carbon and 130kg/m2 CO2 by 2010,” a Department of Health Spokesman told Channel 4 News Online.

Channel 4 News Online obtained its figures from the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency. Figures for oil costs were unavailable.