EXCLUSIVE: Less healthcare better for sustainable NHS, says director

The NHS Sustainable Development Unit director has said that an environmentally-conscious and sustainable public health service will provide less healthcare in the future.

David Pencheon

David Pencheon

Speaking to edie on the eve of the 65th anniversary of the NHS, David Pencheon said: "I think we are coming to the conclusion now that it is not more healthcare we need, it is better healthcare. Sometimes it might even be less healthcare we need."

The NHS is the country's largest employer and single largest purchaser of energy in England, having spent almost £600m on energy costs in 2011-12.

Pencheon believes that a healthy environment with a healthier population would lead to fewer patients and therefore less money spent on hospital energy bills, resulting in lower carbon emissions.

"We have probably got more to gain by getting people to take more physical activity, reducing obesity and getting people out of cars because it is absolutely bound into our business model," he said.

"There is a "sweet spot" between high quality care within financial limits and environmental limits," he added.

This could explain why the organisation's sustainability agenda is benefiting from stronger board-level support, with a recent survey demonstrating that 60% of key leaders in the NHS believed sustainability was essential to its operations.

"If we had done the survey ten years ago people wouldn't have known what sustainability was all about," he said.

In addition, Pencheon claims that the NHS has conducted the biggest corporate Scope 1, 2 and 3 carbon foot printing of any large organisation in the world.

Despite this, he says it was only in the past decade that the organisation had begun to start working within environmental limits.

He noted that since the NHS had formed in 1948, it had often purely focused on the future quality of patient services working within financial limits and, although sustainability is rising up the NHS agenda, Pencheon admitted that the business sector was exploiting it to a greater extent.

"I don't think it is a wide spread feeling yet, I wouldn't say it is a cultural norm within the NHS," he said.

However, Pencheon insisted that there was great potential for the NHS to become sustainable as there is a strong business case for it.

"We don't start from an environmental concern we start our core business - to improve health. If there is a less environmentally harmful and cheaper way of doing it, and a way that is more convenient for patients, why should we not support that?" he asked.

Conor McGlone


| energy bills | NHS | population


Energy efficiency & low-carbon
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