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Climate / Gilbert Bain replacement essential to meet CO2 targets, health board hears

Report recommends new ‘zero carbon’ hospital

Lerwick's Gilbert Bain Hospital. Photo: Shetland News

REPLACING the Gilbert Bain Hospital is a must if NHS Shetland is to meet the Scottish Government’s ambitious climate change target of net-zero by 2045, the health board heard on Friday.

NHS Shetland has been part of a pilot project over the winter as part of the Scotland-wide health service’s plans to reach “net zero” over the next quarter of a century.

Board members received a presentation from NHS Scotland’s head of energy and sustainability Kathryn Dapre.

She said that while NHS Shetland only accounted for 0.3 per cent of the national service’s carbon emissions, the health board does have a “really big impact” on emissions within the islands.

Among the recommendations identified by the pilot project are replacing the Gilbert Bain with a “zero carbon” design.

Other measures put forward include replacing fossil fuel heating with electric sources, using local renewables at rural health centres and replacing NHS Shetland’s transport fleet with electric or hydrogen vehicles.

While some extensions were built more recently, the bulk of the Gilbert Bain was completed in 1961. In autumn 2019 board members commissioned an assessment of the hospital after hearing about the constraints the ageing buildings place on the health service.

“We don’t think decarbonisation of NHS Shetland will work without replacing the Gilbert Bain Hospital,” Dapre said.

She pointed out that, while new MRI and CT scanners would increase NHS Shetland’s energy consumption, it would reduce the need for patients to travel to the mainland and remove the associated emissions.

Her presentation highlighted that if healthcare was a country it would be the fifth largest in the world in terms of carbon emissions.

Dapre said NHS Scotland was producing “world leading figures” having met the 2020 target set by the Scottish Government, with emissions down around 64 per cent since 1990.

She said climate change had been identified as the biggest global health threat of the twenty first century, and that “still holds true” even in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The health service will never be able to reach “completely zero” due to its need to use anaesthetic gases, but a reduction of nearly 90 per cent in emissions against a 2019/20 baseline is viewed as achievable.

Dapre said that poor air quality caused almost 2,000 premature deaths a year, while there is growing awareness of the mental health effects of climate events such as flooding.

Unacceptable levels of fuel poverty – which is substantially higher in the islands than on the Scottish mainland – also cost the health service an estimated £80 million a year, she noted.

“The health benefits associated with zero carbon are huge,” Dapre added.