How IT is helping the NHS save the planet

A course of virtualisation should clear that right up

A course of virtualisation should clear that right up

IT will play a central role in the NHS' efforts to slash its carbon footprint in the coming years.

Technologies such as virtualisation and cloud computing will become increasingly important as green initiatives in the organisation ramp up, according to NHS director of infrastructure, Mark Ferrar.

The NHS this week unveiled plans to become a more sustainable organisation by meeting the government target of cutting carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

In the short term, the NHS' aim is to reduce its carbon footprint by 10 per cent between 2007 and 2015.

Find out more about the 10 key NHS IT projects

♦&nbsp NHS Care Records Service

♦&nbsp Choose and Book

♦&nbsp The Electronic Prescription Service

♦&nbsp N3 national broadband network

♦&nbsp Picture Archiving and Communications System (Pacs)

♦&nbsp The Spine

♦&nbsp The Quality Management and Analysis System

♦&nbsp GP2GP record transfer

♦&nbsp NHSmail- a central email and directory service for the NHS

♦&nbsp Secondary Uses Service

Speaking to, Ferrar said: "Dealing with the environment is something we have to embed in our approach to IT. The key thing is we don't do this as a one-off."

The 18 million tonnes of carbon dioxide the NHS produces per year accounts for 3.2 per cent of England's carbon emissions and 25 per cent of the public sector's, according to the NHS.

Ferrar said that one of the main areas in which IT can contribute towards cutting emissions is by reducing the number of physical computer servers through the use of virtualisation - something that has already started to happen in the health service.

"We've got to get to the point in the NHS where there's no reason not to virtualise servers," he said.

And in the future, Ferrar said alternative and more efficient ways of running services will be considered to cut emissions. "We'll put more services in to the cloud," he said.

Ferrar added that greater use of the NHS N3 IP network - the health service's broadband backbone - will also play a part as teleconferencing and telemedicine become more widely used to reduce the amount of travelling by staff and patients.

A key question being asked now by the health service is "when we've got this IT can we use it in ways to make other processes more efficient and effective?", according to Ferrar.

The NHS has been looking at how to make its IT operations greener for some time by ensuring any replacement hardware is the most efficient kit available.

"We've been worrying about the carbon footprint of IT almost since the National Programme for IT started," he said.

Ferrar's team has been working with the Cabinet Office green delivery unit for 18 months focusing on initiatives such as how best to manage datacentres, implement wireless networks and recycle hardware.

"This isn't rocket science but it's something you've got to work on," he told