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
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
"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
"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
"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
'Every aspect of my emergency care was dealt with quickly,
efficiently and professionally with full explanations and
compassion from all staff involved'.
Patient, Emergency Department, Darlington Memorial Hospital