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Revealed: Hospitals under the microscope over environmental impact as Royal Free set to miss emissions target

PUBLISHED: 12:27 24 October 2019 | UPDATED: 12:27 24 October 2019

The Royal Free Hospital. Picture: Ken Mears

The Royal Free Hospital. Picture: Ken Mears

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The Royal Free Hospital Trust is set to miss its target to reduce its carbon footprint.

UCLH's environmental apprentice Christina Cogley and head of sustainability, George Gebski. Picture: UCLHUCLH's environmental apprentice Christina Cogley and head of sustainability, George Gebski. Picture: UCLH

In its latest annual report, the trust was aiming to reduce its overall carbon footprint by 25 per cent by 2023/2024.

It is currently measured against the floorspace at the hospital, by which metric it's set to miss it by some way. Yet the report points out that when measured against staff numbers, it is on track to meet them.

When asked by this newspaper for its latest environmental and sustainability policies, a spokesperson was not able to provide them, but instead pointed to the trust's latest annual report. It is in the process of drawing up a new sustainable management plan.

A spokesperson said: "The trust is developing a sustainable development management plan, which will include a strategy for tackling environmental issues. The plan will cover areas including energy, waste management, procurement and transport."

It said a new "Warp It" reuse and recycle system for staff had saved 60 tonnes of rubbish from going to landfill in the last two years.

The report, published earlier this year, says it is trying to meet the NHS's target of cutting its carbon footprint by 28pc by 2020.

Healthcare and treating patients makes up for 75pc of its carbon footprint. The trust believes its combined heat and power facility at its Hampstead site, which also powers parts of Gospel Oak has saved it 6,200 tonnes of CO2 a year. UCLH has a similar facility.

The Royal Free is planning to roll out LED lighting and "optimise" the energy centre in Hampstead, to further cut down on emissions.

Meanwhile the Whittington Hospital is also devising a new sustainable development management plan. Its carbon emissions have reduced from 7,838 tonnes in 2017/2018 to 7,064t last year.

It has signed up for the NHS's single-use plastics reduction pledge, given out 350 Oyster cards to get community staff to use public transport, and its new electronic record system will hopefully save a million pieces of paper.

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Meanwhile UCLH has been recognised for its bid to tackle emissions.

While being slightly smaller than the Royal Free with 1,000 fewer staff, it has been awarded the Carbon Trust standard for carbon, waste and water. However this newspaper was not able to get its latest carbon emissions totals.

George Gebski, who has been the trust's head of sustainability for almost a year, said UCLH was "proud" of its progress.

He said: "This means that the trust has made a successful reduction in carbon emissions year on year. As long as we keep reducing them, then we are staying on that standard."

He said UCLH is also trying to meet the NHS's 2020 target. It is also aiming to go plastic free in its cafes and canteens.

Mr Gebski added: "We're doing quite a number of things, and we have some quite challenging targets. We want to get rid of all plastic straws by next April. We want to follow that up by getting rid of all plastic cutlery and plastic cups by April 2021."

Mr Gebski is also trying to reduce the waste of clinical instruments. A packet of them will often contain several implements that will not be used, so are thrown away. A national group he is part of, which meets four times a year, is sharing ideas on how to get suppliers to cut down on excess packaging.

"We're trying to encourage suppliers to reduce the amount of packaging and move away from the use of single-use plastics for masks and move towards a more reusable type culture.

"We can always reduce our plastics but we have got to think of what we do. Infection control is the biggest barrier to some of these things. Plastic seems to be the best model for some of them. There is a lot of things that we can replace and it is one of the things we are doing."

Dr Toby Hillman, a respiratory consultant at UCLH says that hospitals need to look at changing the way they deliver healthcare.

He said: "We have got to change the way we deliver healthcare. It's estimated that 5 to 10pc of journeys in the UK are healthcare-related. Outpatient appointments have doubled in a decade. If you can reduce those by a third to telephone calls then you will reduce the impact."

The UCLH environment chief says he is also talking to junior staff who are keen to tackle the problem. He said: "Some of them are quite passionate about it. In some cases this is the only way we can do it."

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