London’s health service goes green

The capital’s health service is going green by switching to cleaner energy, reducing environmentally harmful gases and reducing waste.

The NHS in London celebrates progress in reducing its carbon footprint as political leaders gather for the second week of COP27.

Since 2018 London trusts have reduced use of desflurane, one of the most common but environmentally damaging anaesthetic gases used in surgery, by 20%.

NHS staff at University College London hospitals (UCLH) have gone a step further and reduced their use by 90% by opting for greener alternatives.

Damon Kamming, consultant anaesthetist at UCLH explains:

“For every hour desflurane gas is used it is equivalent in emissions to a car journey from London to Leeds so reducing its use by more than 90% has been a priority for UCLH. We now mainly use intravenous anaesthetics and where that isn’t possible, we use sevoflurane, a cleaner anaesthetic gas. It’s good for patients, it’s good for staff and it’s good for the planet.”

Among other successes, UCLH have also invested £2 million in low energy LED lights this year across their hospitals. These use a quarter of the energy of previous lights, last longer, and will enable the trust to save more than 1,200 tonnes of CO2 per year.

London NHS trusts are also committed to greener travel with over 65% now operating cycle to work schemes for their employees. As part of an initiative to reduce pollution and improve staff health and wellbeing, nurses from Guy’s and St Thomas’ are also piloting electric bikes to visit patients in the community.

Cheyenne Morgan, community nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’, sees up to 10 patients a day in their own homes and provides a range of support, including help with insulin, wound care, catheter changes and palliative care.

Cheyenne said:

“I love riding a bike and prefer it to using the bus or walking. It reduces the time it takes to get to my patients, and I don’t feel the weight of my rucksack because it can go into the cargo hold. It’s a great alternative to driving and reduces our carbon footprint while helping me to keep fit.”

Other trusts are working to make their buildings more energy efficient. Central London Community Healthcare (CLCH) NHS Trust use electricity from renewable sources and they are planning to install solar panels and heat pumps at three of their buildings over the next three years.

The Royal Free London are increasing plant-based menu options and installing a digital meal ordering system for more accurate meal planning, reducing food waste.

Martin Machray, regional chief nurse and senior responsible officer for the Greener NHS Programme in London said:

“We know that climate change has an impact on health, which is why we’re committed in London to reduce emissions and promote a greener future for the NHS.

“It’s great to see the progress our trusts in London are making which is completely down to the determination and creativity of our staff.”

In 2020, the NHS became the world’s first health system to commit to reaching net zero emissions with two targets: net zero by 2040 for the emissions we control directly, and 2045 for the emissions that the NHS influences.

Carbon reduction initiatives, set out by all London trusts in their Green Plans developed last year, focus of five main areas: medicines, travel and transport, suppliers, hospital buildings and clean air.