On greening the NHS

Unison has teamed up with Great Ormond Street Hospital in a pilot project to green up the NHS.  This is a very good thing.  As one of the largest public sector employers, the NHS has a huge carbon footprint.

The NHS Sustainable Development Unit (SDU) was set up in April last year to promote sustainability and mitigate climate change and I’m eagerly waiting to see the plans implemented at the hospital where I work.  It’s a huge hospital.  Built recently, it possesses state of the art technology and equipment with many specialised departments to serve the needs of the county.  But in spite of it being a new build with the modernity that comes with new builds, it isn’t fitted with energy saving devices such as solar panels and it doesn’t even appear to have an environmental policy.

On a national level, procurement is a major contributor to the NHS waste/carbon footprint so I was mightily relieved to learn there is an action plan in place that is working towards sustainable procurement  . . .

. . .the health and social care sector in England will use sustainable procurement, not only of equipment and supplies, but also buildings, facilities and services, to achieve improved health and well-being for the people, the environment and the economy.

It’s not just procurement that needs an eco-overhaul.  On the ground, lights are left switched on day and night. Computer terminals are often kept on 24/7.  Office equipment is kept on standby overnight, every night.  Indiscriminate requesting of blood tests occurs daily.  And the food.  Goodness!  The food wastage is phenomenal.  Full and completely untouched meals regularly go back to the kitchens simply to be thrown away.  Probably largely unavoidable due to sudden changes in patient circumstances but staff are forbidden to eat them.  This is a silly rule.  There are no infection implications.  They haven’t even left the catering trolley for goodness sake.  Reduced waste.  Reduced transport costs.  Reduced-rate meals for staff.

Another area of waste is on the ward and in the clinic rooms.  Yellow bags and black or clear bags in bins stand together side by side on most wards.  Yellow bags are for clinical waste only and are very expensive to dispose of because the whole bag gets incinerated.  Clear bags, for ordinary waste can be disposed of for a fraction of the costs.  The problem is, sometimes there are only yellow bags available to hand so the health care workers use those bins for all their waste.  I heard that it costs around £30 to dispose of a yellow bin yet health care workers routinely throw paper towels and other non-clinical waste in them.  There are compulsory courses that instruct hcw’s about these issues but they don’t seem to be effective in practise.  The discipline seems to be slack.

I can hear you arguing that over-stretched nurses are too busy saving lives etc to be worrying about climate change but it’s simply a matter of reconditioning – habit-forming changes in behaviour.  Nurses can play a crucial role in greening the NHS at ward levels and I’m not alone in thinking that.  It’s crucial to form a deep and lasting culture of waste-awareness in the NHS.  Of course patient and staff health and safety comes first.  Of course infection control has to be prioritised but green efficiency awareness does not need to compromise health care.  It can actually improve it.  In fact, there are far greater health implications if we don’t start to seriously mitigate climate change.

Some other links of interest:

The Campaign for Greener Healthcare

Nursing Times

Nurses can play a key role in creating a greener health service


3 responses to this post.

  1. 100% in agreement with what you say, Earthpal. I’d add not only nurses should follow the procedures you propose but perhaps social workers should also fill in patients with them. We all must see to it that risks of infection – apart from getting greener every day – be kept at the lowest minimum.

    I remember many years ago a Swiss lady who told me that Spain was a ridiculous country because citizens were paying other persons to clean what they had sullied.

    I agreed with her.


  2. Well said Jose.

    There are lot’s of jobs for cleaners these days because no-one wants to clean up their own mess.


  3. […] Bhutta . . . we owe a commitment to the people who help save British lives. Absolutely.  I wrote here about the need for a greener NHS and it’s high time that our beloved NHS becomes fully in […]


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