NEW EU DIRECTIVE 'WILL FORCE RISE IN HOSPITAL RUNNING COSTS'
European plans to tighten controls on industrial pollution could impose massive extra running costs on about 70 NHS hospitals, it was claimed this afternoon.
The threat comes from the EU's Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive, which is already under fire in the UK for risking higher farm prices by extending emissions restrictions to small farms.
Now it is claimed the plans extending the scope of an existing EU Directive will put a new price on running boilers.
The 12-year-old Directive currently targets heavy industries - power stations, ferrous metal production, extraction and mining, chemicals production and waste management.
But the plans are to widen the scope and establish a permit system to prevent and limit pollution from "large-scale industrial installations."
Conservative MEP Caroline Jackson said today that means hospital boilers will be caught in the scheme.
Even their reserve boilers will fall within the scope of the Directive, she claimed.
Ms Jackson said she now hoped her amendments to exclude hospitals from the rules will be approved in a first vote on the new plans in Strasbourg next week.
"Hospitals require a great deal of spare boiler capacity to cope with fluctuations in demand and this law does not take account of that," she said.
"Unless our amendment is passed, hospitals will be faced with the tough choice of paying the huge costs associated with this law, or shutting down boilers, which could have grave consequences for patient care. The commission should have spotted this problem when they drew up the new law: we are not the only country affected.
"The NHS has said that up to 70 hospitals across the UK could be affected, so it is crucial that we recognise their special circumstances."
Earlier this week Farming and Environment Minister Jane Kennedy held talks with MEPs urging them not to back parts of the proposals which would hit small farms and push up the price of chicken, turkey, tomatoes and cucumbers.
In agriculture, the Directive applies to pig and poultry producers who have 40,000 poultry, or 2,000 pigs or more than 750 sows.
But if the rules are extended, the National Farmers' Union says the changes would affect many seasonal and small family farms, triggering price rises for household staples such as chicken, turkey, tomatoes and cucumbers.
The impact on hospitals could be more serious: NHS hospitals keep substantial spare boiler capacity to cope with emergencies and in case of technical failures. The changes to the EU Directive would include assessing their boilers on the basis of their potential emissions, rather than their actual emissions, adding to the costs of obtaining the necessary permit.
The European Parliament vote next week is not the end of the issue: EU ministers will have a say, and MEPs are expected to vote again later in the year before a final agreement is hammered out by the end of 2010.