Cameron Hawkins, Head of Energy and Environment at NHS Property Services (NHSPS), describes the path to net-zero when it comes to decarbonising the NHS estate
The NHS is responsible for around 4% of the UK’s carbon emissions every year, and therefore, decarbonising the NHS is a part of the UK’s overall net-zero strategy.
In fact, all four UK health services have recently made pledges to become net-zero by 2050 which is of huge significance as this is in line with the Government’s ambition set out in its Build Back Greener strategy.
The NHS estate itself is integral in supporting the NHS reduce its environmental impact and realise its ambition of becoming the first net-zero national health system. This is only possible with a clear estates strategy, effective communication and collaboration with key stakeholders, coupled with a commitment to reducing reliance on fossil-based resources.
Challenges of decarbonising the NHS estate
Establishing a greener NHS estate requires ongoing dialogue with stakeholders, including the building occupiers themselves who play a key role in ensuring efficient energy usage.
As most of the tenants of the NHS estate are healthcare providers whose primary focus will be patient care, the topic of sustainability may not be at the forefront of their minds. It is therefore critical to instil the benefits, as well as the importance of sustainability, and the role it plays in creating a safe, energy-efficient and green environment. This, in turn, will have a knock-on positive impact on patient care.
A further challenge is finding ways to decarbonise the NHS estate’s heat sources. It is particularly difficult to implement technologies such as solar power and heat pumps in an ageing estate, as the condition of existing buildings often limits the feasibility of installing these alternative heat sources. Alongside this, for hospitals in constant use, a reliable, uninterrupted source of energy is essential.
A more sustainable, energy-efficient NHS
Having a clear sustainability plan and strategy with achievable goals is vital to creating a greener NHS estate. NHS Property Services (NHSPS) launched its energy and environment strategy in 2019.
It included around 200 actions, such as improving transport efficiencies, increasing recycling, reducing waste and single-use plastics, improving water efficiency and, importantly, reducing carbon emissions. In the 2021/22 NHS Standard Contract, it is mandated by NHS England that all healthcare services need to have a Green Plan in place. In accordance with this, NHSPS has developed a three-year Green Plan, due to be launched in June this year. This Green Plan will encompass different focus areas with eight clear objectives and is a critical part of its ‘Delivering a Greener NHS’ programme’.
One of the major achievements since establishing the plan is the introduction of the Environmental Management System, which provides a structured methodology, including legal requirements, processes, assessment, and reporting functions, to manage the NHS estate’s environmental impact. This system provides the data needed to track and ensure progress in reducing the NHS estate’s environmental impact, all of which is helping to realise the vision of a net-zero NHS by 2040.
Energy consumption is a significant component of decarbonising the NHS. This requires an agile approach to reducing energy. For instance, NHSPS is developing a decarbonisation process to enable the transition away from gas as the main heating source.
It also negotiated a new energy supply deal that introduced 100% renewable electricity across its building portfolio, with the additional benefit of creating no extra cost to customers. The procurement strategy has delivered significant benefits, with cost savings of over £10 million in 2021 – money that can be invested back into the NHS for the benefit of patients and their communities.
Additionally, NHSPS has invested nearly £14.8 million in LED lighting over the last three years, with projects typically paying back in just over two years, saving even more money for the NHS.
Creating more space sustainably
As demand for NHS services grows, so too does the need for increased capacity. This requires the NHS estate to expand in a sustainable way, as demonstrated by a ground-breaking development that will be one of the first net-zero health centres in England – the Devizes Health Centre. With building underway, it will provide an important space for the Bath and North – East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group to offer primary care to the local community.
This centre is paving the way in sustainable design, as heat pumps and solar panels will be among the green technology used at the site and will enable the building to generate its own heating and electricity. These renewable technologies will not only help conserve resources and optimise energy efficiency but will sustain the site in the long term.
Additionally, it is important to continuously assess how estates across the NHS portfolio can benefit from net-zero strategies. For example, NHS leaders can always lookout to see if there is scope to remove equipment using fossil fuels and work with partners to replace them with renewable energy sources instead.
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Source: Open Access Government
Date: 7 June