NHS waste reduction explored at Westminster

Frances Mortimer's picture

“NHS: efficiency savings through waste reduction” was the subject of a joint meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Health Group and the All-Party Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group earlier this month.

The All-Party Parliamentary Groups provide a forum to inform debate among members of Parliament on key policy issues, and the event was chaired by Neil Carmichael MP, with contributions from Dr Terry Tudor, Senior Lecturer in Waste Management at the University of Northampton, Alexandra Hammond, Head of Sustainability at Guy’s and St. Thomas NHS Foundation Trust, and Dr Frances Mortimer from CSH.

Attendees heard how costs relating to healthcare waste in the NHS have been growing for the last ten years with landfill costs rocketing from £7/tonne in 1998 to £80/tonne in 2014, perhaps explaining the reduction in non-recycled waste by 6% between 2007 and 2013.

The “just in case” approach, where waste is classified as infectious when staff are unsure of the level of danger, can increase both the financial and environmental costs as it must then be incinerated. In 2011 the Royal College of Nursing found that savings of approximately £5.5 million per annum could be found if 20 % of infectious waste was classified as the less harmful ‘offensive’ waste. Ensuring that staff are engaged with waste management processes is important so that they understand the significance of waste classification. 

Expanding on the importance of clinical engagement, Dr Frances Mortimer presented examples from the CSH sustainable specialties programmes, where local sustainability representatives have introduced a wide range of projects to increase value from resources and reduce waste. Again the rewards can be substantial, with the potential savings from widespread replication of Green Nephrology Case Studies in UK renal units estimated at at £7 million, 11,000 tonnes CO2e and 470 million litres water per year - leading the BMJ to speculate in 2013 that annual savings of £1 billion could be possible if a similar approach were adopted in all medical specialties.

In closing the meeting, Neil Carmichael MP stated that he planned to raise the topic of NHS waste reduction as a potential theme for the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, and noted that clinical engagement is clearly a key factor.

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