Participation in the LEAF pilot

Rob Shorten
Rob Shorten • 9 August 2023

Pathology testing underpins all of healthcare. All patients are tested; from swabs to diagnose COVID, to bloods in community to monitor diabetes, and tests to diagnose the acutely unwell in ED and secondary care. Indeed, NHS diagnostic laboratories in England process over 1 billion tests per year. They also consume large quantities of energy and water; an average laboratory uses 3-6 times the amount of electricity of the equivalent size office. These tests use large amounts of single-use plastic and laboratories produce vast sums of non-recyclable waste. Laboratories contribute significantly to healthcare’s carbon footprint, and must therefore equally contribute to Greener NHS’ pledge towards a Net Zero service.

LEAF (Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework), run by University College London is an established audit tool that is used by academic laboratories to reduce their environmental impact. The LEAF team adapted the framework to be used as a pilot in diagnostic laboratories and we, in microbiology at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals (LTH) jumped at the chance to be involved.

The framework uses 16 audit standards covering seven overarching areas:

  1. People: We formed the Microbiology Greens, a small group of keen individuals, who went about engaging the whole lab team. Lab sustainability is now regularly discussed at all lab meetings, we have a prominent notice board with a space for suggestions outside the lab, and the subject is included in the pathology induction for new starters.
  2. Waste: We ensured that our waste streams are as segregated as possible. We made sure that nothing goes into clinical waste unless necessary, as this is much more expensive and has a worse carbon footprint than domestic waste. Our trust already utilises a company that sorts domestic waste to recycle plastic bottles, tin cans, and glass. All remaining waste is incinerated to create electricity, and nothing goes to landfill.
  3. Purchasing: All new capital purchases and contracts have a score attached to them based on several factors, including the environmental impact of the equipment or products.
  4. Equipment: We scoped out the who lab to identify pieces of equipment that could be powered down when not in use.
  5. IT: All non-essential PCs are centrally powered down over night. All screens had their brightness reduced to 25%.
  6. Samples & chemicals: Strict purchasing restrictions, and limited storage space means that nothing is wasted and over-ordering is eliminated.
  7. Ventilation: Faults with the physical estate are reported promptly. Safety cabinets are powered down when not in use.

The microbiology department at LTH were awarded the Bronze LEAF Award after undergoing a successful audit. We have demonstrated positive first steps to reduce the environmental impact of our diagnostic service. We have improved staff engagement to a point where environmental sustainability is now regularly discussed in all meetings, and all staff are actively encouraged to contribute suggestions to help us do even better.

One measurable impact was the identification by one team member that a benchtop incubator was switched on 24/7 when it was only required to be used one day per week. Switching this off for the other six days has saved the equivalent energy of boiling 51 full kettles every week. We have adopted a ‘Green Kettle’ logo and these stickers have been applied to all pieces of equipment that can be safely powered down when not in use.

We are now consciously considering why and how we process patient specimens in our laboratory. This is forming the early stages of culture change. We plan to extend our efforts outside the walls of pathology: by carrying out projects in the pre-analytical phase of specimen testing. We aim to work with test-requesting colleagues to reduce the number of unnecessary tests, and to make those that are required more environmentally sustainable.


Comments (3)

William Roach
William Roach

Hi Rob, this is excellent. I work at South Tees Hospitals (Tees Vally Pathology). We are interested in looking at steps we can take to reduce the laboratory's carbon footprint. Do you know when/ if the LEAF pilot for diagnostic laboratories will be rolled out for others to follow?

Rob Shorten
Rob Shorten

Hi William,

Very kind, thank you!

I believe that they are planning a re-launch (hopefully) later this year. Whilst I'm not able to share any of the audit tools from the pilot, I'm happy to chat about our experience and the underlying principles. This means that you could start making an impact in your lab ahead of any re-launch.?

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