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Planning for a greener future

green plan

One thing we've learnt about the people working in the NHS over the last year (as if we didn't already know) is their ability and willingness to rise to the toughest of challenges and adopt new ways of working to ensure the care and safety of their patients.

So, it's no surprise then that whilst continuing to deal with the demands of the pandemic, plus caring for the many other medical need that patients present with, our local hospital and community Trust is determined to more than play its part in addressing an even greater challenge faced by humanity - global warming.

As we mark World Earth Day, tomorrow (Thursday 22 April) Dr Richard Hixson, consultant in critical care at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, explains, "The NHS is responsible for around 5% of UK emissions, each year produces over half a million tonnes of waste and  uses a similar volume of water to the whole of Estonia. Pre-Covid, the NHS was also responsible for 13% of all UK road travel, amounting to almost ten billion miles a year.

"As the biggest employer in the country, with 1.4 million staff, the NHS is ideally placed to lead by example and, in October 2020, set itself an ambitious target: a net zero carbon footprint by 2040 - for the emissions we control directly, and by 2045 for the emissions we can influence.

"This, and the wider global emissions targets, won't be easily achieved but we really don't have any choice but to make the necessary changes.  The alternative is stark - a complete loss of arctic sea ice, endangered global food supplies, mass migration, and even deaths on an unimaginable scale - all within the lifespan of children born today.

"This week, at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, we're launching our own Green Plan -  'Sustainability Matters' - setting out our first important steps to be carbon neutral by 2045.  The plan details our specific long and short-term targets in areas including food catering and nutrition, travel and transport, medicines and medical care.

"We've already achieved a number of key objectives but the essence of the plan isn't simply meeting targets, it's about changes in culture and behaviour across our whole organisation.  We want every member of our 8,000 strong team to understand their responsibilities not because they must, but because they want to, so they make changes in their home and personal lives too - recognising the cumulative effect of everyone 'doing their bit'. By decreasing our impact on the environment, we also reduce the risk and burden of disease on the people of County Durham, Darlington and the wider community - and on the demand on our services and those of our healthcare partners.  Perhaps most importantly, we'll also be securing a healthy future for generations to come.

"Our Green Plan sets out our aims up to 2024, at which point we'll create further ambitious targets.

"Some of the lessons learnt and changes made during the pandemic have the advantage of feeding directly into the sustainability agenda, travel and transport being one example - we've reduced business mileage, increased home working and virtual meetings which has not only led to improved productivity through reduced travel time but to a considerable reduction in fossil fuel emissions - not to mention cost saving due to reduced business miles.  Our intention is to continue this positive trend going forward.  This month we're introducing electric vehicle charging points at our hospitals in Durham and Darlington as well as upgraded cycle storage - encouraging 'active' travel, with health as well as environmental benefits.  We're also aiming for our vehicle fleet to be 100% electric - and much more besides.

"We've used digital technology for many years but have expanded that over the last 12 months so patients for whom it's appropriate can securely have virtual outpatient appointments from the comfort of home - much more convenient, plus no carbon emitting journey to hospital. The creativity of our clinical and IT teams, working together, is benefiting all kinds of patients, from those requiring monitoring linked to using Warfarin, to our virtual fracture clinics.  Feedback is very positive and we'll continue expanding our use of virtual appointments going forward.

"Hospitals by their very nature tend to be large buildings so reducing energy use and emissions across our estates and facilities is a key target.  We've already installed a combined heat and power system at Darlington Memorial Hospital and upgraded our energy centre by replacing inefficient boilers with modern, much more efficient ones that use low sulphur light fuel oil.  Our lighting is provided by high efficiency LED bulbs which, where practical, are movement activated - reducing wastage.  But there's so much more we aim to do in this area and some of our most ambitious targets are around energy, and water use and efficiency.

"We're also already reducing the amount of 'stuff' we use.  A centralised service has replaced 1,744 printers, faxes and scanners with just 687 multi-functional devises, reducing paper usage - we only use recycled paper which is manufactured to the highest environmental standards without the use of harmful bleaching. We've also significantly reduced single use plastics across our services and will continue finding alternatives wherever possible.

"We stopped sending household waste to landfill in 2012 - equating to nearly 1,000 tonnes per year and in the same year purchased machines that have enabled us to recycle over 900 tonnes of cardboard - saving more than £100,000.

Our ambitious catering team aims to exceed Government standards for the food we purchase, provide space within our grounds to grow fruit, vegetables and develop herb gardens.  Menus are being reviewed to provide meat and dairy-free days and in the two years since we bought a can crusher we've been able to clean, crush and recycle over 12 tonnes of cans.

"Delivering clinical care can in itself be harmful to the environment, for example, anaesthetic gases are responsible for over 2% of all NHS emissions.  We're very proud that in the two years since we began using alternatives, we've more than halved the associated CO2 emissions. We also send masks used by non-infectious patients during surgery to a local recycler who uses them to produce tree ties - so the next time you see a sapling in a local park it might be secured using recycled plastic from one of our oxygen masks!

Changing behaviour can be difficult, but the last year has demonstrated we can do it if we want to.  We've come a long way already but are determined to continue ambitiously, taking our staff, partners and local communities with us.

CLICK HERE to read the Trust's Green Plan

Published: 21 April 2021

'As I was very, very nervous, I must have been the worst patient ever and they were brilliant with me and I can't thank them enough - could you please pass on my sincere thanks.'

Patient, Hysteroscopy Unit, Chester-le-Street Community Hospital