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PHS Supporting NHS Sustainability Days


Like any business ensuring our hospitals are operating as sustainably as possible is a key focus for our NHS. Emma Wood of PHS was recently invited to participate in an NHS conference in the North West to explore with some of the decision makers of these trusts whether new environmental technologies or a behavioural changes in attitudes are the key to creating a sustainable NHS. Here she outlines the outcomes from the session.

How do we create sustainability in our work places, our homes and as we go about our daily lives? t may feel like the “million dollar” question but the answers are often not quite as difficult as we original think.  Talking about becoming more environmentally friendly and how to minimise the impact from our actions tends, in most cases, to start people thinking in terms of introducing new lighting, heating systems and technologies such as solar panels.  But is that actually the right place to start?  Contrary to the phrase our words can often speak louder than our actions, perhaps then encouraging shifts in attitudes and the way we approach sustainability, is a more productive approach.  

This is a question we posed at the start of a workshop with 70 delegates all of whom had a responsibility for sustainability in the NHS.  We asked the delegates to vote on the question “What is the key to creating a sustainable NHS” and gave them to vote on three choices – technology, behaviour change or not sure.  We then organised group discussions to form opinions around three key things that could help the NHS become more sustainable and we questioned whether technology could help stimulate a behavioural change for example using social media or videos to communicate and influence behaviour change.

Unsurprisingly, the topics and the priorities were shaped according to the role of the people involved in the discussions.  Frontline nursing staff discussed the key challenges of getting people to commute sustainably and use public transport, when they are so attached to travelling by private cars and if it was possible to make a change occur through encouragement rather than enforcement.   Whereas the facilities teams talked more in terms of technological changes, such as recycling rainwater to flush toilets or using on-site incinerators.  What is clear is that to achieve ambitious targets is not as simple as installing the latest technology.  One example given by a delegate cited the presence sensors being turned to face the wall and overridden so that they are constantly on which shows a poor understanding of the reason for the installation in the first place as well as the required behaviour.

This is why our approach to waste management is a combination of offering both technology solutions and behavioural solutions - to ensure waste is collated and collected as efficiently and sustainably as possible.  We invest a lot of time, particularly with NHS staff, delivering training to explain the importance of waste segregation, the knock-on benefits of both cost and environmental and we have devised new educational tools to help improve understanding of the  healthcare waste colour coding system  which makes handling waste simpler and easy to implement.

Clearly, proper segregation of clinical waste into infectious and non infectious waste is vitally important. Therefore, reviewing your waste management strategy regularly is a worthwhile and an essential exercise in terms of identifying cost savings and to check that your impact on the environment is as positive as possible.  Following a waste audit of an NHS Trust we identified that 100% of its clinical waste was being included in the infectious waste yellow bags and incinerated.  By introducing segregation, 54% of the waste is now identified as suitable for orange bag alternative technology treatment, and 46% is suitable for offensive waste disposal, yellow and black tiger bag.  The potential cost savings are significant - based on 1 tonne of clinical waste being disposed of as in the example above, could save more than £700 per month in waste disposal costs. 

Waste segregation training is key to ensuring segregation is properly maintained and our online interactive waste segregation training tool is proving popular, as a useful way to educate healthcare professionals and improve waste segregation.

At the end of the discussions the group took a revote on the original question “What is the key to creating a sustainable NHS?” which showed a new score of 80% believing a mixture of technology and behaviour change is needed if the NHS is to become truly sustainable.

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