Why I think the NHS needs to take sustainability seriously

While reading the recent LTT article Healthy transport: the route to wellbeing and a stronger economy? I was pleased to see it touched on a few points which I covered during my own presentation at the sustainable transport and health event in Bristol which I’d like to share. First and foremost I was encouraged by how sustainability is being thought about more in the health sector.  In my opinion there is a lot to be done within the NHS around sustainability, as the world’s fifth largest employer with approximately 1.5 million direct employees in the UK and many more in other roles that support the NHS it is no surprise that 5% of all journeys made relate to the NHS in some way. The issue is that 80% of these trips are done using the car and account for 18% of NHS emissions.

During the event, we explored how Oxfordshire NHS Foundation Trust had approached the situation of their staff travelling to work predominantly by car.  This caused issues given the trust is forever increasing staff members, but are unable to meet the additional demand on parking as historically this has been a free for all.  Due to the overcrowded parking, staff and patients were forced to park cars on red and emergency routes. They also knew that staff were travelling from very short distances by car due to the lack of policy meaning the current situation was untenable and unfair to many staff.  They decided, with the agreement of the union, to introduce a car parking management system based on evidence generated from Basemap’s travel time tool called TRACC.

This provided evidence that gave them the confidence and conviction to enforce a system that was based on travel times to their employment centres. They analysed access to over 100 Oxfordshire NHS sites and all postcodes covering existing and any new staff members within a 2-hour commute.  Using the evidence, they liaised and agreed with the union that parking would not be automatically offered for any staff member within a 25-minute walk/cycle or 45-minute public transport commute.  This helped free up parking in the NHS trust ensuring spaces were offered to those that needed them and enforced active travel for other staff members.  Importantly money generated from the permit system was reinvested in secure bike storage and showers to help further promote the active travel options to staff members.

As part of the presentation I also spoke about how just providing information can be key to promote active travel, this is especially useful for patients and non-staff members who may not know about alternative travel options to get to the site. An example in education that could easily be represented across both healthcare and any other large employer was the production of walking zone maps.  I saw many of these advertised during the conference, however they all were based on the inaccurate crow flies approach, showing 10-minute walking zones going across rivers/lakes.  There is so much great data available for free to public sector organisations that there’s no excuse to be creating these types of maps.  In the example I discussed Staffordshire County Council gave each pupil a 10-minute walking zone map as part of their starter park when they started at the school.  This quickly led to  a 27% modal shift in the way pupils travelled to school, which in turn visible reduced congestion around the schools.  The great news is that studies show that if a pupil maintained this active travel mode for the first two weeks, this would continue through education and workplace, making it vital for future generations to choose more active travel modes.

Dan Saunders, Product Manager, Basemap

Read the article in full on TransportXtra

Dan has over 10 years experience as a Product Manager at Basemap looking at the full product life cycle using AGILE/SCRUM and liaises between key stakeholders and developers to ensure first class applications are built. He is the resident expert on data and software solutions that Basemap offer its clients.