Making NHS blue light fleets green

Many NHS hospitals are being set the target of lowering the carbon footprint. While much of the change needs to happen within the hospital walls, electrifying ambulance fleets and becoming greener on the roads is an option worth exploring.

With the fall out from the Volkswagen emissions scandal having a knock on effect on the rest of the vehicle manufacturing industry, it has been widely assumed that public sector fleets will lead the uptake of green vehicle procurement. It is too soon to say whether ‘dieselgate’ will encourage the popularity of greener vehicles across the board, but greener fleets in the NHS are certainly an area worth exploring.

The NHS employs more than 1.7 million people, and 18,687 of those are ambulance staff. It has environmental targets of an 80 per cent carbon reduction by 2050.

North East Ambulance Service
The North East Ambulance Service has replaced five of its pool cars will fully electric Nissan Leafs. The decision to introduce electric vehicles to the service’s fleet aims to reduce carbon emissions and fuel costs. North East Ambulance Service covers an area of 3,200 miles across County Durham, Northumberland, and Tyne and Wear, and has worked with Elm EV to build a charging infrastructure.

Nine EV charging points have been installed in six locations in the North East to support the new vehicles. These charging points are the first in the UK to be made by Dutch firm ICU, and use smartware technology to help ease the load on the national grid.

Clare Swift, Environment and Sustainability Manager, North East Ambulance Service, said: “The uptake of electric vehicles was vital for the Ambulance Service. We aim to be proactive in promoting a cleaner environment and the use of electric vehicles also enables us to save money on high fuel costs.

“Elm EV provided the service with a full EV charging infrastructure report, which included smart and reliable equipment at a competitive price.”

Alex Earl, ICU UK, Country Manager said: “Having produced over 15,000 charge points for the mainland European market, ICU is very excited to have made a start now in the UK. Our success has been built on producing high quality, reliable, intelligent charge points so it is crucial for us that we work with partners in the UK who share our values.

“Elm EV is certainly one such partner with already great experience in the UK EV market. We are very happy to be working with them and look forward to sharing continued success well into the future.”

Additionally, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has replaced 13 of its fleet with Nissan e-NV200 electric vans. The vans were deployed after a recent trial and are expected to cut transport costs by 80 per cent, while reducing annual CO2 emissions by 59 tonnes.

Michael Taylor, who is responsible for the Trust’s fleet, said: “With increasing financial challenges on the NHS, we needed to make the service more efficient while being more environmentally friendly so decided to look at whether electric vehicles could work for us.
“We’ve been very impressed by the performance of the e-NV200 and it’s definitely helped to change perceptions of electric vehicles among our staff. Due to its success we will be looking at how we can expand its use across the trust.”

Electric Vehicle Scheme
The North East Ambulance Service is not the only blue light service turning green. Three premises across Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust – Berrywood Hospital in Duston, Northampton, Campbell House in Northampton and St. Mary’s Hospital in Kettering – are benefitting from an electric vehicle scheme.

Each site now hosts two permanently‑based EVs, while electric hook-ups are also available at Isebrook Hospital in Wellington, Willowbrook Health Centre in Corby and Manfield Campus in Northampton. The trust’s fleet consists of a combination of Renault ZOE and Nissan LEAF fully electric hatchbacks, with an average range of 90 miles on a single charge.

Chairman of the trust Paul Bertin, said: “I am absolutely delighted that we at Northamptonshire Healthcare have taken this significant step forward and are the first NHS trust in the county to provide such a service for our staff and the public.

“As a trust we have made a commitment to reduce our carbon footprint by 28 per cent by 2020 and by encouraging our staff to park up their own vehicle and use an electric vehicle for business travel will help us move towards achieving this target. Looking after the environment is everyone’s responsibility. Providing such a countywide service for our staff and the Northamptonshire public will further raise the profile of sustainability and how we can all do more for our environment.”

Vehicle evaluation
In the NHS, the role of the fleet manager or fleet director is a well established function. The NHS operates a huge and complex range of vehicles that present considerable challenges to those responsible for managing them. Frontline activities depend on the availability, reliability and safety of a wide range of specialist vehicles including A&E ambulances, doctors’ cars and other complex fast response vehicles (FRV), together with converted vans and patient minibuses. The larger fleets also may have the added complexity of managing HGV vehicles with all of the additional regulation that entails.

Before purchase, it is good practice to set clear technical and qualitative evaluation criteria including cost and performance at the outset. Give the manufacturers and the vehicle conversion specialists’ feedback. They need this to develop the product – and hopefully enable them to make a sale next time round. One area where innovative vehicle technology can provide challenges is the service, maintenance and repair infrastructure to support the new vehicles. So any decisions about new vehicle models must include adequate provision for keeping them on the road and reducing downtime.

Enlisting the support of drivers is also a critical element of selection and evaluation. NHS vehicles often operate on a shift basis and multiple driver operating styles bring further management challenges including ensuring every driver is familiar with the correct procedure for adjusting the vehicle for their use. While on the road trials are an invaluable opportunity to put vehicles to the test they must be done by employees who understand the evaluation criteria and can make an objective assessment. It should also be remembered that badly driven green vehicles can be more polluting than well driven conventional ones.

A critical factor in successful green fleet management is securing drivers’ buy-in to the new vehicles. Even when given the most efficient and clean vehicle available in the market today, an employee who resents having the vehicle will manage to make it perform inefficiently. Therefore, geting the drivers’ early buy-in to environmental policy and the objectives will be much more achievable.

Ensure that employees are made aware of any financial savings available to them – low CO2-emitting cars will reduce company car tax and private fuel costs. Employees need to be shown the key features of vehicles to understand any special driving characteristics. For example, hybrids require a different driving style to optimise their dual-power systems.

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