The National Health Service can play a key role in the fight against climate change by reducing its carbon emissions, a new NHS Confederation report, written by the independent think tank NEF (the new economics foundation), has found.

Taking the temperature: towards an NHS response to global warming warns that, as one of the largest public organisations in the world, with a whopping one million patient contacts every 36 hours, the Service is making a substantial contribution to carbon emissions.

“Global warming is happening, time is running out and - like the rest of us - the NHS has to act now, before the climate becomes critical,” said Andrew Simms, nef's policy director, and co-author of the report.

Health impact

Furthermore, the report warns that global warming will impact the general health of the population in the UK through, for example, more heat-related deaths and respiratory diseases and this, in turn, will add “significant additional pressure” to the resources of an already struggling NHS.

"The lethal heat wave that hit Paris not long ago shows the kind of thing that we can expect to become more common,” Simms explained. “But, as our climate-health check of the health service shows, an NHS braced for a warming world can play a vital double role. First, it can help the nation to cope and adapt…second, it can lead the way by showing how large organisations can cut, radically, their greenhouse gas emissions.”

1m tonnes of carbon a year

Current energy consumption in NHS healthcare facilities costs £400 million a year, and throws up a net carbon emission of around one million tonnes. According to Taking the temperature, the NHS will “have to work hard” to cut back on its energy use to the degree suggested by UK Energy – 20% less than levels in 1990 by 2010 and a 60% drop by 2050.

"By addressing some key aspects such as energy use, transport and waste the NHS can not only have a considerable impact on reducing its carbon footprint but also its costs,” said Dr Gill Morgan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, commenting on the report's findings. And if NHS trusts are able to cut current energy consumption by 15%, "the NHS will save £50 million per year on energy bills - the equivalent of building one small hospital or performing 7,000 heart bypass operations," she added.

Research by Ipsos MORI commissioned by the NHS Confederation found that the public (63%) agrees with the report’s finding that the NHS needs to pull its socks up with regarding to reducing its carbon footprint, as do the majority of 336 NHS chiefs (70%) who took part in a separate survey for the Confederation, so support for a greener operation is definintely there.