Published: 16/05/2002, Volume II2, No. 5805 Page 10

The NHS is not making use of its 'unparalleled purchasing power' and spends an estimated£144m a year on food that goes to waste, according to a report from the King's Fund.

The NHS buys goods and services worth£11bn a year, says the report. This includes 1.3 million chicken legs and 55,000 gallons of orange juice.

As Britain's biggest employer and biggest food buyer, the NHS is, unsurprisingly, one of Britain's biggest producers of waste. This translates to 600,000 tonnes of clinical, infectious, pharmaceutical and domestic waste and about 7.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide - a major contributor to global warming - each year. And annual spending on waste disposal amounts to£42m.

The report says the resources spent on food, goods and services should be used more wisely.

Sustainable practices and investment in local communities would improve health and reduce demand for healthcare.

Claiming the Health Dividend examines what the NHS can achieve through better employment practices, purchasing policies, food buying, waste management, travel, energy and building.

It urges trusts to invest in tackling local unemployment and boosting local business.

Anna Coote, King's Fund director of public health, and editor of the report, said: 'Each hospital also produces an average of 10,000 tonnes of waste a week, more than two-thirds of which has to be incinerated. If trusts were able to reduce the amount they waste, by using resources more carefully and recycling where possible, a small amount of investment now could generate big savings for the future.'

The report examines a number of positive cases where local initiatives have attempted to improve environmental matters and local issues.

The Royal Free Hospital in London spent£5m installing combined heat and power in 1995, from which it has saved£872,000 a year in energy costs, and Manchester Royal Infirmary saved£14,000 in landfill costs by separating waste more efficiently and recycling paper.

Ms Coote admitted it was difficult. 'Seizing the moment will not be easy. Many trusts are under so much pressure to meet government targets that they have no flexibility to think long-term.

'A lot of primary care trusts are still coming to terms with their new responsibilities and may feel they are too small to make a difference. But if the nettle is grasped and the opportunity taken, the NHS could make a big difference to people's health and help to ensure its own longterm viability.'

Claiming the Health Dividend . King's Fund bookshop. 020 7307 2591.£10.