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NHS Commits To Green IT, Despite Chaos

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

Green IT will be needed in the NHS’ plans for Sustainable Health, if the NHS survives a government reorganisation

Despite facing the biggest reorganisation in its 65-year history, the NHS has committed to a green route map which would make its IT and other services sustainable during the next several years.

Health Minister Simon Burns helped launch the National Health Service (NHS) Route Map for Sustainable Health, which has emerged from the service’s Sustainable Development Unit, and proposes a deep change in NHS staff behaviour to reduce the unit’s carbon footprint. However, the document arrives at the same time as the government’s controversial Health and Social Care Bill which proposes reorganisation and cuts which, according to medical journal The Lancet, means “the end of the NHS.”

Grass roots approach

The Route Map is “a realisation by the NHS itself that it needs to change,” said Burns, speaking by video at the Route Map’s launch in St Bart’s Hospital in London.

As well as praising the Route Map, he defended the proposed NHS reorganisation, saying:  “We are putting in place reforms that will help the NHS to become one of the most respected health systems in the world. And that includes being recognised for its sustainability.”

The NHS has a carbon footprint of 21 million tonnes of CO2 per year, which is roughly the equivalent of a country like Croatia, but it is very difficult to compare its green performance, as no other national health service has calculated its carbon footprint, said Sonia Roschnik of the SDU, who made a guess that the NHS’ carbon footprint is smaller than the US health system, but larger per person, than that of India.

The Route Map does not include any specific guidance for IT staff – or for any other areas – explained David Pencheon, head of the unit. “It is not a blueprint, and it’s not a prediction,” he said. “It ‘s not a how-to guide, it’s more of a where-to guide.”

The document was developed during workshops involving health workers, and sets out “work streams” for them to collectively get their sustainability act together, moving towards a sustainable service over the next 20 years or more.

Real guidance needed

Despite this, health IT staff are facing the need to handle the Health Act’s reorganisation while meeting increasing regulation, the meeting heard. A 400-bed NHS Trust will typically have to register under the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme, and will have to pay around £100,000 on a £1 million electricity bill, one delegate told eWEEK Europe. The fact that the CRC scheme is being reconsidered will add to this uncertainty.

Since coming to power, the coalition government has pulled the plug on the costly and wasteful National Programme for IT , and has proposed easier access to patient records, to the horror of privacy activists and the BMA group of doctors.

While the SDU seems to be ignoring the government’s cuts, some have commented that the reorganisation may reduce the NHS’ carbon footprint more effectively than a routemap. “If operations are cancelled or hospitals are closed, as some fear, carbon emissions will fall almost inevitably,” said Fiona Harvey in The Guardian.