Stephen Ginn on energy use in hospitals

Stephen GinnAccording to a recent article in the Guardian newspaper I’ve worked in the two most polluting buildings in the UK. Over the course of one year the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel was responsible for the emission of 46,218 tonnes of CO2, (rated G). Cambridge’s Addenbrooke’s hospital – in whose A&E department I worked – was the second worst, receiving an F rating. Overall eight of the ten worst polluting buildings in the UK were hospitals which on average emitted 4089 tonnes of CO2 per institution yearly. At the other end of the scale, tourist information centres emit on average 140 tonnes per year.

Hospitals are always going to struggle to be energy efficient. Despite modernisation many are still sprawling behemoths with “legacy” buildings whose origins sometimes stretch over the course of more than a century. In those days ‘energy efficiency’ was having a rest before beating the maid. Unlike offices, the nature of health care means that hospitals never close and heating costs will be high due to the needs of ill patients.

But still, walk into any hospital department and you’ll find every room is lit at all hours and every computer terminal is on whether or not it is being used. Heating systems are unresponsive and temperature regulation tends to involve opening the windows. This profligacy is hardly surprising as there’s little incentive to conserve* and things like computers aren’t designed to be powered down anyway. Some lights have most likely not been turned off for several years and I’ve only every worked in one place with motion activated lights.

All this will change I hope, although compared with, say, hand disinfecting energy efficiency has a very low profile in the NHS.

* NB: Lest it be thought I am preaching, I am no better than anyone else in this regard. 

Stephen Ginn is a psychiatrist in training working in London. He writes the blog Frontier Psychiatrist.