Page last updated at 12:07 GMT, Tuesday, 27 January 2009

NHS carbon cutting plan launched

Hospital food preparation
Food on hospital menus may change

An ambitious plan to slash NHS carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 has been launched by ministers.

Ideas include using technology to reduce patient and staff travel, and perhaps even reducing the amount of meat on hospital menus.

The NHS accounts for 3% of the UK's "carbon footprint" - making it a bigger polluter than some small countries.

The plan, which applies to the NHS in England, calls for 75% of NHS waste to be recycled by 2020.

The nature and scale of our business in the NHS means we have a responsibility, as well as a unique opportunity, to play a leading role in the climate change agenda
David Nicholson
NHS Chief Executive
The NHS is the country's biggest employer, and responsible for 18 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, making it the largest public sector contributor to climate change.

The strategy, drawn up the NHS Sustainable Development Unit, splits these emissions into three groups - building energy use, travel and procurement.

It calls for all new buildings to be "zero carbon" by 2018, using technology such as heat pumps, pointing to projects such as Sherwood Forest Foundation Trust, which is using a nearby reservoir to provide heat in winter and cooling in summer.

NHS patient, staff and visitor travel are responsible for approximately 10.5 billion passenger kilometres per year, and the strategy calls for an increased use of teleconferencing for staff - and telemedicine technology for patients, to reduce this.

However, procurement of equipment and food, and subsequent waste disposal, makes up the most significant slice of NHS carbon emissions.

With many foods, particularly meat, imported from abroad, even the humble steak and kidney pie must take its share of the blame, with its ingredients travelling tens of thousands of kilometres to reach the patient.

'No ban'

The Sustainable Development Unit said there was no desire to ban meat from the menu - although the aim should be to "reduce reliance" on it.

"The focus should be on more locally produced foods on the menu," a spokesman said.

NHS chief executive David Nicholson said: "As the biggest public sector employer in the country, the NHS needs to lead by example. I want to encourage NHS staff to really get involved and do their bit to create a greener NHS."

Dr David Pencheon, Director of the NHS Sustainable Development Unit, added: "By leading by example the NHS can help mitigate climate change and improve our health tomorrow, as well as today.

"Carbon reduction is something that needs to extend to every part of the organisation. Everyone who works for the NHS should be thinking about reducing their carbon footprint as part of their day job."

Neil Watson-Jones, who chairs the Hospital Caterers Association, said that many hospitals were already moving towards sourcing their food as much as possible from local producers.

He said: "Most people are buying British meat now where they can, but trusts need to be sure that they have a reliable supply and it meets all the necessary standards."

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