The extreme and unpredictable weather conditions of the last week or so helps to remind us of the effects of global warming. We constantly hear about this issue in our personal lives, but how might this relate to us professionally?
There are obvious health impacts of climate change for the future. Global warming will place a severe strain on public health: there will be more cases of skin cancer, cataracts, and food poisoning, as well as major emergencies and heat-related deaths.
Yet the NHS itself, in its sheer scale and with high levels of energy-use, makes a highly significant contribution to the UK's carbon emissions, contributing 1 million tonnes annually. For example, 5% of all road transport emissions, and 1 in every 100 tonnes of domestic waste are produced from NHS-related activities. It is one of the world's most resource-hungry public services. Yet it also has the potential to promote positive change.
This week I spent a day in a large modern hospital with my pregnant daughter who was not feeling too well. To pass the time and keep her mind off her worries, we looked around us and chatted about the extremes of energy consumption we could see.
A newly-published report, Taking the Temperature: Towards an NHS Response to Global Warming,(1) written by the New Economics Foundation for the NHS Confederation, considers that the NHS faces a dual challenge. As well as taking action to reduce its own carbon emissions, as the lead agency responsible for public health, it needs to invest in preventive healthcare to strengthen the resilience of the population, as well as in treatment for the victims of a warmer, more variable climate. Yet Taking the Temperature shows that the NHS is a long way from reducing its energy consumption to meet the government's target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2010, and 60% by 2050.
So what can we as individuals do to make our working lives a bit 'greener'? Although our energy consumption in primary care may be much less than that of high-tech hospitals, there are many simple strategies that we can incorporate into our daily lives that collectively could make a difference. Did you know that by simply segregating domestic and clinical waste you can make huge savings? Putting a paper towel into a clinical waste bag costs £1 for disposal compared with 15p in a domestic bin. Yet a waste audit in one London hospital showed that 70% of waste in clinical waste bags was actually domestic waste!
Does your place of work have a 'green' policy? Carry out a simple energy audit. Reduce your consumption by turning off idle computers and equipment, and actively recycle whenever you can. And think about greener transport, like cycling or walking to work, with the added health benefits that brings.
Not only can we help to save the planet - the savings we make on energy could be spent where they really matter - on patient services.
Wendy Johnson is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner in Primary Care and a Senior Lecturer at London South Bank University
Your comments: (Terms and conditions apply)
"I am horrified at the waste I see within the hospital that I work. I try to take and recycle what I can, but most people leave their computers switched on and lights and TVs are left on when no one is around." - Name and address supplied
"We only recycle paper in the office so as I have a doorstep collection. I offer to take plastic bottles and cardboard home so it can be recycled" - Sue Spencer
"As a community nurse I simply put any cardboard waste I produce (e.g.empty swab boxes) into my own recycling bin at home. I know its nothing much but it adds up over the year" - Name and address supplied
"I felt it such a waste to dispose of cardboard as domestic waste. In Glasgow there is no recycling facilities and I feel this is a terrible way to dispose of an easily recycable material" - Barbara Kelly, Glasgow
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