Alistair Rose on net zero carbon targets for hospitals in Lancashire and South Cumbria

Date posted: 7th December 2022 Alistair Rose on net zero carbon targets for hospitals in Lancashire and South Cumbria thumbnail image

Alistair Rose, director of strategic estates, infrastructure and sustainability for NHS Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care Board (opens in new window), discusses how the New Hospitals Programme would help the local NHS hit the target of being net zero carbon by 2040.

How much impact is the net zero target likely to have on any new hospital facilities and how sustainable will they be?

The requirement for the NHS to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040 is now a firm commitment, which supports the Government’s stated commitment to the Climate Change Act 2008 and the need to nationally be at net zero carbon by 2050. The move of the NHS towards lower carbon emissions and lower levels of pollutants has been under way for a long time, but the imperative to speed up our adaptation and change what we do needs to increase given the committed timescales. These target dates seem like a long way away, but there is a huge amount of work to do between now and then which will involve everyone to some extent.

At the moment we are doing a lot of evaluation work across all the hospitals in Lancashire and South Cumbria to understand what achieving net zero carbon means, how complicated it will be to achieve and what it is going to cost. We need to understand how we get our estate and the services we provide, how staff and patients travel to them and the way that we run our buildings to be net zero or as close as we can get it.

This is not just a local programme across Lancashire and South Cumbria to improve our impact on the environment, we are part of a national programme that is increasingly influencing how the NHS plans and delivers its services into the future. The Greener NHS programme (opens in new window) is a key component of the plans of NHS England.

You may have heard of the term ‘offsetting’ in relation to the carbon that an organisation or individual uses. For example, so many trees planted offsets the carbon of a car journey or the air travel associated with an overseas holiday. We cannot just offset all the carbon used and emitted by the NHS in Lancashire and South Cumbria, as we would need a tenth of the entire land mass of Lancashire to plant trees, which is neither available nor affordable. But we need to get our carbon consumption down as low as we can and then see what we can do to offset what would be hopefully a tiny sliver of our current carbon use and emissions.

Also, there is a big and growing level of understanding about health and wellbeing having a connection to nature and the natural environment. Any new hospitals would not and should not be sterile concrete buildings in a sea of car park – they would be set out with an amount of planting and landscaping, trying to create a bit of a natural environment and outdoor space for staff and patients to be able to spend time outside and walk in.

The other thing to think about when building on a new site would be to really maximise biodiversity. For instance, when you have rainwater runoff from your buildings or your car parks, rather than just channelling it straight down the drain, you might create some ponds and you might create some wildlife habitats – a sustainable drainage system with biodiversity benefits. It is more than just carbon, it is about the whole natural environment and how we all support and improve it.

The refurbishment of Furness General is included as part of all the proposals – what could this mean for the hospital there?

I think that is quite an exciting proposition. We have done the net zero carbon mapping for Furness General Hospital and we are increasingly aware of what we need to do to move that hospital to net zero.

It requires far more work than just this programme, but the New Hospitals Programme can make significant steps to improving the site, for example by replacing single glazed windows, better insulation of the building, better infrastructure, upgrading parts of the building, improvements to the heating provision and air handling and increasing the provision of electric car charging as we move towards a time when petrol and diesel vehicles are no longer available.

I would like to emphasise that this absolutely is not just about the estate or the buildings – it is driven by wanting to provide the very best healthcare. We need to invest in the estate so we can enable our clinical frontline staff to deliver the best healthcare they can for the benefit of our patients. We cannot continue to be increasingly held back in our wish to do this by the current and deteriorating condition of our existing healthcare buildings.

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