A sustainable solution to the NHS deficit

Hugh Goulbourne

Amid growing fears amongst Labour and Tories alike about the scale of the NHS deficit, it is more than a little surprising that the recent announcement of a £50m investment by the UK Green Investment Bank (GIB) into the energy efficiency of the NHS went almost unnoticed. Thankfully hope has come in the form of Labour’s Energy Green Paper. Launched on Monday it provides an opportunity for Labour to reflect on the growing evidence about the role of energy efficiency in staving off cuts and driving up staff and patient satisfaction within the NHS.


The NHS is one of the UK’s most energy intensive organisations, spending more than £750m on energy costs each year. The GIB estimates that energy efficiency measures could, across the UK, cut the NHS’s current £750m bill by up to 20%, saving a substantial £150m each year.

The GIB loan, which will also help the NHS to get back on track to make 34% cuts in carbon emissions across the NHS by 2020, will mean that a handful of lucky NHS Trusts and Health Boards won’t need to find capital upfront to cut their hefty annual energy bills. Instead the money saved by reducing their energy bills will be used to cover the cost of repayments to the GIB.

The first project funded by the GIB will be at Queen’s Medical Centre, part of Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, where £7.5m is being invested to finance the installation of a suite of new energy production and reduction measures. This investment is being made following a number of pilot projects, such as the Ashden Award winning Operation TLC project at Barts Hospital Trust in London.

But investment in energy efficiency technologies is just part of a more holistic sustainability journey which could, if scaled up quickly, provide a wider solution to the funding problems of the NHS. The Operation TLC project at Barts Hospital Trust has proven that energy saving programmes empower frontline staff to take a different approach to the way that they improve patient care.

Over a period of six months nurses were assisted by staff from environmental charity Global Action Plan, to create a more healing environment by switching off none essential machines, turning out lights and closing doors. These simple actions reduced excessive heat, noise and light pollution, improved patient safety and privacy and better-regulated room temperatures.

The programme showed that where energy efficiency measures are matched with simple changes in the way that nurses and doctors use their hospitals then the results achieved go far beyond simply saving energy. At a time when there is a growing realisation that technology and drugs are not the panacea to our public health issues, the programme has empowered nurses to think creatively about how to improve patient care. With a 25% improvement in sleep and 30% improvement in restfulness for patients, Operation TLC has created a cultural shift within hospitals with nurses given permission to run their wards in a way that places a healing environment above all other interventions.

The energy efficiency drive looks set to spark a change in the NHS that will cut its core costs, meet climate change targets and help hospital staff to become more innovative about reducing patient recovery times. But to achieve this the NHS needs a Labour Government that will raise the scale of investment ambition to three times the amount that was announced by the GIB last month. Between 2015 and 2020, £150million of investment a year would lock in a generation of savings of £150m across the NHS and improve patient care. Now that sounds like a manifesto pledge to unite the Labour movement and leave the Tories behind

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