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Technology key to a sustainable NHS

by Polly Moffat
1 February 2011

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Technology holds the key to ensuring a sustainable NHS for the future, both in economic and environmental terms, health experts said today at the launch of the NHS Route Map for Sustainable Health.

David Flory, Deputy NHS Chief Executive, said a key part of driving down carbon emissions rests with health professionals, who could communicate more effectively with patients by telephone.

‘If we think about the technology available to us and the way in which we learn from other best practice, both local and international, we can do so much better in getting care near to home, in-home support, more real time communication between the clinician and the patient,’ he said, highlighting a scheme in Oxford where bipolar patients can phone the doctor rather than travelling for a face to face consult.

The NHS in England produces more than 21 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, 3% of the UK’s total output equivalent to a small country such as the Dominican Republic. The event highlighted that it is vital for the NHS to cut emissions if it is to move forward in a sustainable and cost-effective way.

According to speakers at the launch, GPs and nurses working in primary care have a major role in ensuring the Route Map’s success by reducing waste; making use of nurse-led telephone triage; and encouraging self-care for long-term conditions.

A delegate at the event, Dr Caroline Jessel, Clinical Governance GP Lead at West Kent Primary Care Trust, said: “Primary care nurses should be at the forefront of this initiative, as they are often the ones most involved with the practical side of running a surgery, and the most frustrated by regulations that go against common sense, such as prescribing and recycling waste”.

Tim Ballard, Sustainability Lead at the RCGP said: “Nobody actually knows what the average carbon footprint is for GP surgery. We are currently working on a assessment tool which enables practices to measure their carbon footprint which is currently being piloted in West Berkshire.” The scheme is hoped to be rolled out across the country once funding has been secured. The Route Map for Sustainable Health comes two years after the original NHS Carbon Reduction Strategy for England, launched in 2009.

NHS Sustainable Development Unit