Interview: Philip Branford and Julia Antcliffe at Sheffield Children’s NHS on the role of digital for sustainability

For the next interview in our digital sustainability series, we spoke to Philip Branford (Environmental and Sustainability Officer) and Julia Antcliffe (Lead Nurse for Digital Technology) at Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust. 

We discussed their green plan, some digital projects, digital for patients, and their thoughts on the future. 

Here’s what they had to say… 

The green plan

In its Green Plan, Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust outlines their commitment to creating a healthier future by empowering and educating people to reduce their individual and trust-wide carbon footprint. The five-year plan covers the trust’s vision, the context in which they have set their plan, objectives and targets and more. 

The Green Plan focuses on ten areas of focus, which are aligned with the NHS Sustainable Development Units SDAT programme, a self-assessment tool designed to help organisations understand their sustainable development work as well as measuring progress and making plans for the future. 

Sheffield’s ten key areas are: corporate approach; assessment management and utilities; travel and logistics; adaption; capital projects; green space and biodiversity; sustainable care models; people; sustainable use of resources; and carbon/greenhouse gases. 

“It’s a massive project,” said Philip, “a five-year strategic project looking at all different areas of sustainability within the trust. Julia has been running a digitisation project to look at the amount of resources we use, like paper, for example. So we’re working to reduce our impact there. 

“We are looking at reducing our carbon footprint, but then also looking at how we can improve our patient pathways to make them more sustainable and reduce our impact on the wider environment around Sheffield. So that means we are looking into things like how we can improve our biodiversity and green spaces, and how as a result that can help both patient and staff wellbeing. We want to implement green spaces into care pathways with our young people, bringing in a social prescribing aspect, seeing if we can use the green spaces to support patients with mental health for example.” 

With regards to technology, Philip said: “Something that we hope to look at in the next twelve months or so is how technology can help with reducing the impact of anaesthetic gases. So that will involve gas capture technology and carbon capture technology, to help us improve that.

“In the longer term, we’ll be working on our supplier chain and looking at ways in which we can decarbonise that.” 

The green impact

“We’re doing a lot of work on energy reduction and sustainable travel. Our fleet is now 100 percent electric,” Philip shared. “A lot of our sites are a couple of miles away from each other, so that has quite a big impact. 

“All of the electricity that we purchase is now renewable. A large portion of our carbon footprint and impact is from building energy, so that really helps. We’ve also done a lot of work around decarbonising our estates – for example, we’ve been working on improved installation of our buildings and using LED lights. One of our sites has installed solar panels too.” 

A transition during the pandemic

Philip also commented on how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the trust’s green work. 

“We saw environmental benefits during the pandemic, with a lot of our staff working from home, so there were far fewer emissions through commuting,” he noted. 

“The biggest technology project around the pandemic was the use of patient video conferencing and appointments, which again, reduces emissions through reducing the number of patients having to travel in to see us face-to-face. Virtual appointments aren’t appropriate for every appointment, of course, but it works in a lot of cases.” 

Going paper-lite 

Next, Julia explained how digital has helped the trust in reducing its paper use through a digital wards project. 

“In July last year, we launched the first project for our digital wards which was to implement an electronic handover. We went live across the whole trust; prior to going digital everyone was writing handover sheets down and carrying paper, so that will have reduced significantly. But more recently, on International Nurse’s Day in May, we went live with our electronic observations. 

“We launched clinical observations across the trust, recording them electronically. For every patient that was admitted they would have had a pews chart – a paediatric early warning scoring chart. There are some exceptions – for example, critical care isn’t using those, because the charts they use are a lot more detailed – but the main inpatient areas are all using iPads to input observations.” 

She added: “We’ve only recently gone live, so we haven’t measured the impact of this project yet. But we do know that we will be able to measure it based on the amount of paper we order within the next 12 months, compared to what we ordered before. 

“So we’re aiming to be paper-lite, and digital is going to continue to help us there in various projects. We would love to be paperless but that’s a bit of a stretch at the moment!” 

On staff reaction to the changes, Julia commented: “Staff have adapted really well. We’ve had a really good uptake. When we launched the first project, obviously there was some hesitancy. Staff can often feel a little nervous about the change, but I think as the project moved forward very quickly, it created a bit of a buzz. Staff really liked the fact they are moving into a digital world in their work life. They were asking what project would be next.” 

Upcoming projects

For their new projects, Julia said: “In October, we are hoping to launch our patient flow project, which will involve digital whiteboards being used across the trust. 

“Following on from that, we will be launching electronic prescribing. So again, there will be more benefits – not having paper drug charts, for example.” 

Many thanks to the team at Sheffield Children’s for sharing your thoughts and learnings.