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Working for a Greener NHS

Updated: May 9, 2023

Back in late April and early May, you might remember stories in the news about animals visiting cities and enjoying the freedom of a quieter world.

Images of sheep walking down high streets or deer grazing near tower blocks gave some rare feel-good moments in the early weeks of lockdown.

For a time, it felt like there might be some real long term benefits of the pandemic to nature and the environment as our way of life changed.

Indeed there were early signs, with reports of air and noise pollution decreasing along with greenhouse gas emissions.

These changes, sadly, have proved to be fleeting. The result of everyday life being on pause, rather than a conscious effort to rebalance our relationship with the planet.

Changing Behaviours

Climate change is beyond doubt, but we have a greater understanding than ever before of humanity’s impact on the environment.

In the last 20 years, we’ve nearly halved the amount of waste that goes to landfill. It’s not happened by accident, but by a concerted effort to change our habits and behaviour.

Separating paper, tins and glass into our recycling bins is second nature now. Our awareness of the damage of single-use plastic items like carrier bags, straws and stirrers has increased hugely, with these items either now banned or carrying a charge it has dramatically reduced their use.

How many of us wouldn’t leave the house without our travelling mugs, ready for a visit to our favourite coffee shop or pick up the ‘bag for life’ before setting off for the supermarket?

For all these positive changes, the pandemic and the focus on sanitising and reducing the spread of infection has meant the return of single-use items. In the NHS especially, it has meant more and more pieces of personal protective equipment being used and then discarded.

The NHS and the Environment

The NHS is a huge organisation, comfortably the largest employer in this country with over 1.3 million staff members.

Globally, it ranks 5th only trailing the US Department of Defence, the Chinese State Army, Walmart and McDonalds.

With that many people and the number and size of its buildings, it’s no surprise that the 4 - 5% of our country’s carbon footprint is generated by health and care services.

Carbon emissions are a type of greenhouse gas. They occur when excess carbon dioxide enters the air after human activity such as the manufacturing process or driving a car. The gases become trapped in our atmosphere, altering it.

Air pollution has a major impact on our health, and therefore a knock-on effect on the NHS. It’s linked to conditions like heart disease, stroke and lung cancer which together kill over 36,000 people annually.

Taking action to reduce these emissions will save lives. It’s thought that up to 1 in 3 new cases of asthma could also be prevented.

A Greener NHS

Even before the pandemic took hold, the NHS was making sustained efforts to reduce its environmental impact.

In January, NHS Chief Sir Simons Stevens announced:

“The NHS and its staff will step up action to tackle the climate “health emergency” this year, helping prevent illness, reducing pressure on A&Es, and saving tens of thousands of lives.

A key part of this new focus was to become the first health service in the world to achieve ‘net zero’ in terms of its carbon footprint by the year 2050.

Technology has a big role to play, with remote consultations taking the place of outpatient visits, reducing emissions caused by travel that could be avoided.

Pilot schemes have also replaced traditional diesel van courier services – which the NHS relies on daily – with zero-emission deliveries.

Supply Chains

Naturally, the NHS consumes high levels of different resources from medicines and machines to uniforms and utilities.

COVID-19 has meant millions more pieces of PPE being manufactured, used and thrown away, adding to the already considerable impact of single-use items that are incinerated or sent to landfill.

With face masks mandatory in all NHS settings, and in many other public spaces, the number of blue surgical masks being produced and discarded has skyrocketed.

It’s estimated that over 54 million masks are binned every day – that’s more than 1.6 billion every month.

Not only can they not be recycled, but they also take over 20 years to breakdown because they contain cellulose fibres and cause harm to the environment and wildlife.

Single-Use Theatre Caps

Surgical theatre caps are made of the same material and are thrown away in their thousands every week by every surgical unit around the country.

Precisely because of their similarities to masks, there is now also a shortage of theatre caps, with materials being diverted to meet mask demand.

Surgical units are facing the double dilemma of a shortage of supply of a product they need, but one that is costly, wasteful and harmful to the environment.

At Warwick Med, our mission is to help create a safer, greener, more efficient NHS. We have a solution that solves both these problems, as well as third issue as well!

We produce and distribute washable surgical theatre caps that can be reused for years, and meet infection control guidelines.

No more bin loads of caps going to landfill every day, and a considerable saving to each hospital or NHS trust.

3 reusable caps per staff members versus hundreds of single-use ones. Please request our Savings Calculator to see the difference.

And here’s the third benefit.

Named Reusable Theatre Caps

Earlier in 2020, we became involved in a campaign about moving away from disposable hats to reusable ones that carried a person’s name and job title.

Why? Because with additional PPE it is even harder for staff and patients to recognise who was around them in a surgical setting.

This misidentification and miscommunication causes problems and impacts patients’ anxiety and recovery. Without knowing who to address their concerns or questions to, many patients feel isolated and with no control over their care.

Triple Benefits

We’ve already partnered with hospitals and trusts across the country, all of whom are reaping the benefits to patient safety, communication, their budgets, and the environment.

So please explore our site, take a look at our products, and how you can take advantage of the savings and benefits they offer. We have also created a short video about our mission and goals to promote the need to change.


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