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Steve Mathieson is a freelance analyst, journalist and editor, covering IT, government and healthcare, often in combination, writing for publications including The Guardian, I-D Information Daily, editing Society of IT Management's magazine.

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Sussex NHS cut travel related carbon and costs

Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust has cut its transport carbon emissions by nearly a fifth through methods including tracking its mileage and helping its employees to plan patient visits more efficiently.

“It’s about supporting colleagues, not importing change,” Susie Vernon, the trust’s head of environment, told October’s NHS Sustainability Day event in Birmingham. “Travel can be quite an emotive issue. It’s not about saying you can’t use your car, it’s about saying let’s talk about how you use your car and make it work better for you.”

The trust opened a travel bureau in 2013, which Vernon described as “a one-stop shop to give our staff travel advice”. It allows them to book public transport as well as the use of 15 low-emission hybrid and two fully-electric pool vehicles.

The bureau also provides a route planning services for community staff who visit patients at home. “You’ve got these places to visit – what’s the most efficient way of getting around them in day?” said Vernon. “It makes a big difference, especially when you come at it from the perspective of saving nurses time.”

The bureau uses Google maps for planning simple journeys and Microsoft’s AutoRoute software for more complex tasks such as optimising routes for multiple addresses by working out the best order to visit. The trust has found it can save staff an average of five to ten miles a day, although this varies depending on whether they work in an urban or rural area and how much flexibility is possible on appointment times. Cutting mileage at these levels reduces travel claims by around £3-£6 a day, but more significantly provides some staff with enough time to see an additional patient per day.

As well as helping individuals, Sussex Community works to encourage departments to use travel more sparingly. Vernon said an essential first step was the introduction of software to record travel costs and mileage: “It basically means it’s much easier to keep track of who’s travelling and how much,” she said. “We do league tables of our key departments and services to say who are the big users of mileage.”

She added that the tables are particularly useful in encouraging senior staff to look at cutting inessential journeys as a way to save money. Some individuals have clocked up what she described as “phenomenally high mileage”, possibly because they are covering too broad an area, are based in the wrong place or that more staff are required.

The trust provides services from nine community hospitals and 65 health centres across Sussex. In its first annual sustainability report published in August, it said it has reduced its travel carbon emissions by 18.8% since 2010 and is on track to meet its 2020 target of a 34% reduction. It currently calculates this on the basis this on emissions from trust-owned and leased vehicles and its ‘grey fleet’ of staff using their own cars – where it has cut mileage by 17% to 4.2 million miles a year. From next year it plans to include staff commuting and patient travel. Overall, the trust reckons it has saved £3.09m over six years through its environmental work, having spent £877,000 in doing so.

Since February 2015 the trust’s Care without carbon sustainability programme has challenged staff to ‘Dare to care’ by signing up to challenges. “We’re trying to get the message across that Care without carbon and sustainability is about making you feel good, and creating a healthier, happier and more sustainable NHS,” said Vernon.

The programme’s website, which also covers NHS Brighton and Hove CCG and local GP practices, has registered more than 4,200 such ‘dares’ including car shares, meetings by teleconference and switching off lights and computers – the last being the most popular. It says the savings from its engagement campaign would be equivalent to £27m across the UK’s 1.5 million health and social care staff.

It also believes the programme has improved workplace wellbeing; using methodology from the National Economic Foundation, it found that staff that took part in the Dare to care work experienced significant increases in meaning and purpose, team bonding and focus – although it made smaller differences to physical health and day-to-day happiness. It is looking at how it can share its work with other parts of the NHS.


Care without carbon website: http://carewithoutcarbon.org/
Annual report: http://carewithoutcarbon.org/annual-sustainability-report-scft-first-in-the-nhs/

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