Scottish Royal Colleges and Faculties Call for Greener Healthcare Delivery

Dawn O'Shea

October 22, 2021

The healthcare community in Scotland stands ready and willing to do its bit to reduce healthcare’s carbon footprint but must be supported to make working practices more environmentally sustainable, according to the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties in Scotland.

In a statement, the Academy says, for real change to happen, activity must be taken at all levels of the healthcare system - including by government, health boards, hospital departments and other healthcare settings, and by healthcare professionals themselves.

The organisation is concerned by reports of wastage in the NHS, particularly around medicines and single use items like PPE, plastic drinking cups and blood collection tubes. Waste must be reduced, it says.

At an individual level, healthcare professionals must be assisted in making greener decisions about what medical products they use in relation to carbon intensity, such as asthma inhalers and anaesthetics.

Carbon Sources

Around 25% of NHS carbon emissions are from medicines. The Academy is calling for specific actions to reduce the environmental impact of medicines, including avoiding unnecessary prescribing and changing from metered dose inhalers to lower carbon inhalers.

In addition, it points out that single-use aprons, face masks, gowns and gloves are currently not recyclable or biodegradable and it is urging the NHS and the NHS supply chain to be innovative around the sustainable recycling of PPE.

It is also calling for sustainability work in NHS Boards to be supported and adequately resourced, and for the use of video technology to be encouraged and supported, where mutually acceptable to the healthcare professional and the patient, to avoid unnecessary vehicle journeys.

Furthermore, it says, there should be sufficient recycling bins in all clinical areas, as well as in patient waiting areas. It is also calling for the NHS to provide patients and staff with healthy, sustainable food choices and says healthy meat-free options should be available.

The organisation is requesting an open public consultation on an NHS sustainability strategy for Scotland.

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle

Commenting on the statement, Mr Mike McKirdy, president-elect of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, a member of the Scottish Academy said: "Health services, and the way in which we deliver care, are major contributors to climate change. We need to consider the entire pathway for patients and identify where we can reduce, reuse and recycle at all stages of the clinical journey."

Dr Bernard Croal, regional chair of the Royal College of Pathologists Scotland, highlighted the potential to reduce carbon emissions by reducing unnecessary diagnostic tests.

"We want to see greater demand optimisation, which aims to maximise appropriate testing, to make best use of limited resources across the health service. This can also help to reduce environmental waste, especially for areas such as diagnostic testing, where the cost and impact of unnecessary testing can also result in the production of unnecessary waste such as electricity or personal protective equipment".

"In surgery, for example, there are opportunities to reduce the use of consumables, move towards reusable surgical equipment, and increase rates of recycling. An innovative, coordinated approach to sustainable solutions is achievable".

As one of Scotland's largest employers, the NHS in Scotland has a vital role to play in helping to make the healthcare system more green, the Academy says. While, the NHS has committed to being a 'net-zero' greenhouse gas emissions organisation by 2045, the experience on the ground is not always consistent with those ambitions. Governance of sustainability activities must be robust to ensure progress, it says.

"The healthcare community in Scotland is concerned about the current and future impact of climate change on population health - and they stand ready and willing to do their bit to reduce healthcare’s carbon footprint," the organisation says.

This article originally appeared on Univadis, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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