Energy efficiency improvement plans proposed for EU countries could cost the health service millions of pounds a year, the NHS Confederation has warned.

The body which represents NHS organisations described the EU proposal as “too rigid and top-heavy”.

The Energy Efficiency Directive aims to establish a legal obligation to establish energy saving schemes in all member states and for the public sector to “lead by example”.

The EU has a target to save 20 per cent of its primary energy consumption by 2020.

However, it is estimated the EU is currently only on track to achieve half of that target.

The directive has been proposed by the European Commission in response to calls from both the European Parliament and the European Council to close the gap.

But the NHS Confederation’s European Office says the directive will have a “major impact” on the health service at a time when it is tasked with finding £20bn in efficiency savings over the next four years.

It argues that a specific requirement of using floor space to help calculate energy reduction targets, rather than looking at buildings as a whole, would limit how NHS organisations are able to implement energy efficiency measures in their buildings.

This alone could cost the NHS more than £70m a year, it said.

Elisabetta Zanon, director of the NHS Confederation’s European Office, said: “The NHS is fully committed to improving its energy efficiency and has made great progress in recent years to become more sustainable and eco-friendly.

“As the NHS owns a vast and complex estate, we appreciate the need to modernise our buildings and consume energy more efficiently.

“But these EU proposals are too rigid and top-heavy. They will create a real headache for organisations that are already trying to find sizeable savings.

“We really don’t want to find ourselves in a scenario where we have to divert money away from patient care to pay for costly building renovations.

“We are currently working with EU decision-makers to achieve more flexibility in how the rules are implemented.”

NHS Sustainable Development Unit director David Pencheon said: “An initial investment in newer heating or more efficient lighting systems can often return their original investment within three to five years.

“It makes good financial sense if NHS organisations invest to save.”

A vote on the issue is expected in the European Parliament on Tuesday.