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Over the last few decades I’ve spent a fair bit of time at one hospital or another, taking family, friends and neighbours to scheduled appointments or to A&E for emergency treatment, along with visiting those staying in hospital. There’s never much to do other than chat, while gazing around and observing what’s going on – sometimes for hours on end - and thinking, too. Everything about the environment contrasts greatly with vivid memories of a hospital stay as a 6-year old needing a tonsillectomy. Cleaning was carried out by the nursing teams who’d kneel to polish the wooden flooring blocks. I don’t recall much equipment other than mops, buckets and cloths, along with hot, soapy water and a disinfectant and wood polish aroma. I don’t recall any medical equipment either and there was lots of space between the six beds, two of which were unoccupied.
My goodness, how things changed since over the years, with the hospital environment now incredibly busy and each ward or room housing a vast array of equipment! Cleaning the floor, in particular, must be like navigating an obstacle course and something that’s impossible to do properly, while all the gadgets, shelving, cabinets and movable trays, along with beds & all their attachments and levers, must be a nightmare to tackle. Privacy curtains around each bed, which used to comprise washable material, are now of the throwaway variety, as are water cups/bottles, much of the workwear and most of the medical devices. I despair at the cost to both the environment and the NHS budget!
According to a recent Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine report, which spotlights a new analysis of products used in the five most common NHS minor surgeries, 68% of carbon contributions come from single-use items, such as gowns, patient drapes and instrument table drapes. Their production and disposal - along with processes for decontaminating reusable products, are the worst offenders. The analysts recommend adopting strategies such as avoiding non-sterile gloves and washing hands instead, not opening gauze swab packs unless required and asking suppliers to remove rarely used items from single-use pre-prepared packs. They also argue that many single-use products have reusable alternatives; for example gowns, patient drapes and instrument table drapes, and that there is no evidence that the more environmentally-friendly, reusable surgical textiles, are clinically inferior. They say that eliminating single-use items or switching to reusables where feasible, alongside optimising associated decontamination processes and waste segregation and recycling, could reduce product carbon footprint by one third. Could we be about to witness a timely ‘about face’ I wonder, with more practical purchasing decisions being made? I sincerely hope so! You can read more about what’s involved, further down the page…
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18th May 2023