Chris Wiber

Chris Wilber

In the latest column from NHS Connecting for Health, Chris Wilber, director of infrastructure at the NHS Technology Office, discusses the part that IT has to play in greening the NHS.

There is increasing momentum to introduce initiatives that reduce power consumption and carbon emissions. Next month’s UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen will further highlight the impact that increased carbon emissions have had on the global climate.

Developing strategies

At the beginning of this year, the NHS published its first carbon reduction strategy and pledged to become one of England’s leading sustainable and low carbon organisations, meeting the government’s target of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.

The NHS has one of the largest carbon footprints in the UK, estimated at 18m tonnes of CO2 per year. This is 3.2% of all carbon emissions and 25% of public sector emissions in England. The NHS is looking to achieve a 10% reduction in its 2007 carbon footprint by 2015. As part of the strategy, NHS organisations are committing to reducing their carbon footprint.

Information Communication Technology is recognised as having a key part to play in the sustainability and green agenda. In 2008, the Greening Government ICT strategy was launched and NHS Connecting for Health is part of the Greening Government ICT delivery unit which recently published a One Year On report.

NHS CFH is taking input and policies from agencies across government and developing these with assistance from NHS trusts into NHS-wide Green IT Best Practice and Guidance. We are also working with Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust to develop their Green IT Strategy, which will be used as the basis of an NHS wide Green IT Strategy.

Nottingham has an excellent track record of working in its community to support local sustainability initiatives. We are looking to build up these successes and identify opportunities to improve the sustainability of healthcare provision.

National projects make a contribution

Many of the systems and services being implemented by NHS CFH already provide significant contributions to the green agenda, such as Picture Archiving and Communications Systems, Choose and Book, and NHSmail.

Because of PACS, there’s no longer a need for large storage facilities for physical films, or for film processing and the use of chemicals. Healthcare professionals can look at images at the touch of a button, eradicating the need to transport unwieldy film packets across hospital sites.

Choose and Book provides a safe and secure method of electronic referral, that does not depend on postal services handling letters. The NHS has traditionally communicated by letters and phone calls – with NHSmail, processes are e-enabled, speeding up communications and improving patient care.

The N3 network, which links every medical centre, GP surgery and hospital in England and Scotland, presents a number of further opportunities for driving and stimulating the green agenda for trusts and the NHS as a whole.

Core and access networks are in the process of being made more energy efficient and the introduction of new technologies, including N3 Video Conferencing, is enabling more collaborative and remote working, with big savings on travel and associated CO2 emissions.

Local organisations already use N3 daily to send over half a million electronic prescriptions using the Electronic Prescriptions Service. Over 200m prescriptions have already been sent electronically over N3, leading to big paper savings – equating to around 25,500 trees and 60,000 tonnes of CO2.

When N3 carries all prescriptions, the NHS will save an estimated 4,197 tonnes of paper – equivalent to around 100,000 trees and 227,000 CO2 tonnes per year.

Local action

NHS CFH is recruiting specialist resources to help develop Green IT capability across the NHS and monitor the progress.

The NHS Infrastructure Maturity Model will be particularly helpful in assessing where an organisation currently stands in terms of capability and opportunity for development, as it will set out key performance indicators and metrics for the trusts to measure their achievements to date and assist in planning ongoing improvements.

There is plenty of room for improvement at a local level in ensuring that the IT infrastructure is operated in the most efficient and sustainable way. We need to get away from distributed, poorly managed equipment rooms to fewer, better managed data centres and server facilities.

There are many opportunities to reduce the power consumption of existing equipment, ranging from turning equipment off when not in use to improving the management of both the power and the cooling of IT facilities.

The vast majority of what is termed Green IT relates to reducing the amount of power required to operate IT equipment. Therefore, implementing many of the practices outlined in the EU Code of Conduct for Data Centre operations will reduce costs.

In addition, there are benefits in IT being an enabler. For example, improving workflow may indirectly reduce energy consumption in other areas. There are also benefits in extending the life of IT equipment by better implementation of services and applications.

Going green as far as IT is concerned is not just good for the planet it has a direct impact on the bottom line, freeing up resources that can used to directly benefit patients and their care. We all have a part to play in working identifying, developing and supporting local sustainability initiatives. Green IT is here to stay.