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News archive - March 2014

Are we too complacent about climate change?

Are we too complacent about climate change?

Hospital managers need to work more closely with staff and patients if they are to tackle the threat of climate change, experts have warned.

At Ecobuild 2014 in London earlier this month, a panel of experts argued that the NHS, as the UK’s largest contributor to carbon emissions, must be more pro-active in improving the sustainability and efficiency of services and the buildings from which they are delivered.

A member of the audience who works at a recently- redeveloped acute hospital in England told the conference: “We have moved from an old hospital to a new building, but on the day we moved in people were saying they were hot and opening windows. We had no idea how the building was supposed to work and we don’t often have much contact with estates and facilities. As a result no one knows what to do and we are not working well with the facility.

“It is about educating people and devolving responsibility from managers so that we are being efficient from the bottom up and making the most of our buildings.”

Feedback on how energy-saving and sustainability measures are going is also vital.

The greatest risk

She said: “We need to put charts up in reception to show how our efforts are working in reality. At the moment nobody really knows how we are doing, so nobody really cares.”

The NHS has been charged with cutting carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 from a 2008 baseline. This is part of the Government’s wide-reaching strategy to tackle climate change.

Speaking at the conference, George Marshall, founder of the Climate Outreach and Information Network, said: “There is no doubt climate change is the greatest risk we face, but it is within our capacity to cope with it and to keep it in check. But first we need to see it as a very real threat as well as a risk. We all need to actively participate and take control of it.”

David Uzzell, a professor of environmental psychology at the University of Surrey, added: “We need to create an environment [in our hospitals] where sustainable processes become not just second nature, but first nature.

“There are often huge barriers to change within large organisations and they can lack the control and influence to act in a greener way, together with other constraints, particularly around communication. Spaces need to be created where people can work collectively together and are supported when they suggest changes to processes and procedures that could have an impact in terms of helping to mitigate the effects of climate change.”

The Government’s 2050 target is also at risk of putting off the efforts of healthcare organisations.

Uzzell said: “People can’t think in those sort of timeframes. When people are afraid of losing their jobs in the current economic climate they can hardly think of next week, let alone five years into the future or more.

Education, education, education

“We need to educate people and to do it in a way that they understand.”

John Ashton, a climate diplomat and independent commentator and adviser on the politics of climate change, told delegates healthcare trusts have everything they need to tackle the issue.

He added: “We have got to build a carbon-neutral energy system in not much more than the space of a generation. We have the technology to do that, and the money to do that, and if we succeed we will have more prosperity.

“Why should we have the worst-quality building stock in Europe? We need to have the best. Let’s modernise and retrofit and set up the financing mechanisms we need to pay for that.

“It is about taking control of our buildings and taking control of ourselves too. Hospitals are a vital part of our national infrastructure and even trusts with not much money can create better estates.”

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