Senior Partner Chris Large shares insights from advising China on making its healthcare system more sustainable

This year GAP has been asked to support the research unit of the Chinese ministry of health (the NHDRC) as it seeks to green China’s healthcare system. Whilst sharing what we’ve learned about cutting carbon emissions in UK hospitals, we’ve also been picking up new ideas for UK hospitals.

This isn’t an opinion piece. Rightly, medical decisions are made on evidence and data, not my opinion. So I’m sharing five insights to be considered by the health sector, with one exception. The final story is a reflection on one existing NHS patient service that would be sorely missed if it wasn’t there – and for most patients in China it isn’t provided.

1. Doctors and estates managers report to the same director

At Ningbo Number 6 Hospital, I was fascinated to hear that the leaders of medical care, and the team that ensure the buildings are well maintained, report to the same director. This decisions recognises that the total care of patients depends not only on the medical service they receive, but also the environment in which they rest and recover.

2. Knowledge of power is power

The more we know about how energy is used in hospitals, the easier it is to control energy and cut energy bills. 50 hospitals in China have implemented new smart metering in a coordinated programme. I was asked to test the dashboard showing the energy use at Peking Union Medical College Hospital (rated as the best hospital in China with four times more patients than any hospital in the UK). I was hugely impressed. The system could answer many questions on how energy is used that no hospital I’ve worked with in the UK in the last four years has been able to answer. I wonder how much more energy could be delivered by hardworking energy managers in UK hospitals if there was money to invest in smart metering systems.

3. The Health Leader Olympics

At the China Health Development Forum in Beijing, Zhou Shenglai, a committee director of the Chinese Hospital Association, highlighted a gap he observed in health leaders role modelling health. His suggestion was that hospital directors should prove that they can run at least 5km before being recruited. Whilst not advocating this idea, and not suggesting that UK health leaders need to get trim, it would be fantastic for health leaders to play a role in normalising physical exercise, inspiring people to get enough exercise and sharing tips to help kids stay healthy.

4. Avoiding light for light’s sake

Whilst walking the wards and corridors in Chinese hospitals I was struck by how pleasantly, and simply, they were lit. In many corridors, a single light fitting, and plenty of windows gave enough light for people to avoid bumping into things, but was not an assault on the retina. Whilst recognising that some eyesight conditions require more light to aid sight, I have walked along many UK hospital corridors where strips of lights add nothing to the natural light coming through the window.

5. Be thankful for our Health Care Assistants

UK Health Care Assistants wash patients and help them move about, serve meals, make beds and talk to patients. This basic care is essential for many patients in hospital. However, in China, these roles are taken by the patient’s family. Untrained family members help patients to move, and there are clothes lines on balconies 17 storeys above ground level where spouses dry patient’s clothes. If a patient wants or needs a care assistant, they can pay extra for a health care assistant.

I am extremely grateful that in our hospitals in the UK, health care assistants provide basic care as standard.

If you would like to find out how Operation TLC can help your NHS Trust save money and energy in 90 days, contact [email protected]