Hospitals also being hit by ‘overpriced’ energy tariffs

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HEALTH bosses are looking to “shop around” for energy after NHS Lothian’s bills soared by £6 million in four years.

Energy costs at city hospitals and clinics rocketed from £11.5m in 2010 to £17.7m this year, putting more ­pressure on its already stretched budget.

The sharp rise – which has seen gas costs nearly double – has led to calls for the health board to switch suppliers. 
NHS Lothian finance director Susan Goldsmith said that, like Scottish households, they were “victims” of the price hikes. She led calls to address the rising costs or it would add to “an emerging financial pressure”.

Staff are also being encouraged to do their bit for the green cause by saving energy where they can.

Tim Davison, chief executive of NHS Lothian, said employees needed to treat it as though it was “their bill”.

“Do all of our staff turn the light off when they walk out the office or turn their computer off? The answer is no,” he said. “We are talking about millions of pounds of expenditure but we need every penny we can get. It is not their money, it’s not their budget, but it is their money as it is from the public purse.

“We need to do our research as well, not just into energy companies, but to energy usage.”

The ballooning bill comes after energy giants recently hiked gas and ­electricity prices by between 3.9 and 11.1 per cent.

Lothian Green MSP Alison Johnstone said the increase in energy costs was “absolutely astonishing”.

She called on the ­Scottish Government to ­negotiate with the energy ­suppliers to secure a special tariff for the NHS.

She said: “It’s very difficult to challenge the power of these Big Six energy companies because it’s so non-competitive. I’m unconvinced switching between companies is the long-term answer because after a couple of months, the company you have gone with is likely to increase its prices too.

“I’m very concerned our health service is experiencing such high costs. Perhaps the government and the suppliers can get together and see if they can agree a special tariff.”

Independent Lothian MSP Margo MacDonald said: “When there is talk about energy bills going up, most people will think about their own homes.

“Few of us will think of how much it’s costing the health service.

“I don’t understand how the energy companies can so ­blatantly charge above what they need to charge, because they are all delivering record profits.”

Lothian MSP and Labour health spokesman Neil Findlay said it was essential organisations like the NHS looked to get the best deal possible.

He said: “This is another indication of why we need a freeze on energy prices, not just for domestic customers but also public organisations like the NHS who are big energy users.

“Every penny you spend on energy is a penny not spent on patients.”

kate.pickles@edinburghnews.com