Eco 2022: Hospitals want to crush coronavirus and carbon

Less sticking plasters being handed out

Friday, 7th January — By Tom Foot

UCLH WhatsApp Image 2020-10-02 at 12.10.01


FROM meat-free days to prescribing green inhalers and stopping using plasters in vaccination centres, NHS chiefs are introducing a range of day-to-day changes to help the fight against climate change.

The Royal Free, Whittington and University College London Hospitals are all signed up to green plans including achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2040 in bold environmental pledges made since the Glasgow COP in November.

And while the initial focus of the vaccine programme was getting as many people jabbed as possible, there is now a new focus on reducing the carbon footprint.

“When we first started it all happened so fast,” said UCLH’s vaccination centre lead Carlo Cavalli.

“We were less certain about how high the risks were with spreading Covid-19 via surfaces like clothing, so we were using the same personal protective equipment (PPE) as other staff in our hospitals. We were using up to 2,000 plastic aprons a day [at the vaccination centre in Bidborough House].

“With the support of UCLH’s infection prevention and control team, it was agreed that there was minimal risk to patients and staff if the team stopped using the aprons altogether. The team also reviewed how often they were handing out sticking plasters to patients and now only use cotton wool after the initial injection unless there is a need for a plaster.”

He said there had also been a significant reduction in the sharps bins, for used needles, that are being unnecessarily incinerated since a more effective waste system was introduced.

He added: “We will only make changes where it is clinically safe for us to do so, but we are mindful that we can still make a difference.”

Inside the hospital, UCLH has this year reduced use of its most environmentally harmful anaesthetic gas by 90 per cent.

Consultant anaesthetist Vicki Mitchell said: “Anaesthetist gases contribute to 2.5 per cent of NHS total carbon footprint. There are two in common use. One is particularly damaging to the environment, so what we’ve done is take that one away. Another thing we have done is make it possible to avoid anaesthetic gases altogether.

“We’ve bought new pumps so we can deliver intravenous anaesthesia. It’s good for staff, patients and good for the planet.”
At the Royal Free, meat-free days are being introduced to help sow the seeds of the benefits of a vegetarian diet among staff and patients.

There will be a major push to prescribe low carbon inhalers – with a target of 75 per cent. Reusable face masks are also to be introduced in non-clinical and clinical areas, while gowns will be manufactured on-site.

The hospital is purchasing electricity from renewable sources only and increasing investment in low energy led light.

An anti-idling policy has been introduced and electric vehicle charging points and cycle parking spaces have been increased.

The Free’s statement said: “We are committed to helping the fight against climate change – focusing on the way our staff and patients travel to our buildings, how we manage our estate and how we consume resources, to how we reduce waste and recycle more. We will be a role model organisation for everybody who walks through our doors.”

It added that staff “would be encouraged to take practical steps to reduce carbon footprint in their daily activities at home/work and improve their carbon literacy”.

At the Whittington, where emissions have been reduced by 32 per cent since 2016, NHS managers have signed up to a range of similar commitments.

Other schemes include a clean air walk scheme encouraging patients and staff to walk side streets and “avoid any harmful pollution on Highgate Hill”.

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