10 things clinicians can do to combat climate change
24 November 2022
By RJ Heron
The British Medical Journal has put together a list of ten actions for clinical staff wondering how to make positive changes to help tackle climate change.
Practise preventive medicine
Preventative healthcare is a proactive approach to caring for patients, rather than reactively treating illnesses. For example, promoting a healthy nutritious diet, regular exercise and interaction with green and blue spaces, through schemes such as green social prescribing which can promote health and wellbeing.
Screening for diseases regularly is another great example of prevention in action. It ensures that health conditions are diagnosed before they progress to avoid complications, and could reduce the amount of treatment required.
When possible, check in with a patient on their meds, to see if they have a surplus of items on repeat prescription, especially if they are only taken when needed. Helping patients avoid a surplus can help to reduce unnecessary pharmaceutical waste.
It is always worth checking to see if more sustainable alternatives are available, while not compromising the care provided.
One example is inhalers; Ventolin inhalers which have a carbon footprint of 28 kg CO2e compared to Salamol inhalers with a carbon footprint reduction of over half at 12 kg CO2e – a simple switch can help cut carbon emissions.
Reduce the investigations you request
Medical investigations are an important part of diagnosing and monitoring various health conditions, however, laboratories use a significant number of resources, like energy and water to carry out these investigations. Consider if it would be possible to reduce the number of investigations you request to help conserve resources.
Use telephone consultations and low carbon meetings
Where health queries can be managed verbally, telephone consultations are the best option – they reduce the need for patient travel and allow consultations to become more efficient to help meet rising demand – all whilst cutting our carbon footprint.
Plus, remote care reduces the spread of infectious illnesses between patients and clinicians.
Reduce use of personal protective equipment
PPE is key in keeping ourselves and patients safe, although it can be easy to generate preventable waste as a force of habit.
One example is our use of gloves, within the NHS 5.5 billion single-use gloves are used annually and often, they aren’t necessarily required. The Royal College of Nursing has put together a useful video guide around our use of gloves:
Switch it off
Heating buildings across the NHS estate is responsible for roughly 10% of our overall national carbon footprint, across the UK our estate is being decarbonised and insulated to make it more sustainable.
We can all play a part in saving energy, this could be as simple as turning off lights when they are not in use, and ensuring equipment is turned off at the socket rather than being left in standby mode.
Walk, cycle, or use public transport
The way we travel can also have a significant environmental impact, NHS staff commuting generates 5% of our national emissions – opting to take up active travel can help to reduce this, not forgetting the great health benefits of getting out and exercising as opposed to being stuck behind the wheel.
As driving directly contributes to the level of air pollution in our community, you’ll also be helping to improve the quality of the air our patients and colleagues breathe.
Bring your own food and drink in reusable containers
While grabbing a take-away lunch is a great time saver, it does generally come with plastic waste. Home prepared food at work can save you money, and if you use leftovers can be time efficient too, plus you avoid the plastic waste. Using locally sourced and seasonal ingredients also helps to keep your food miles low, another win for the environment.
Staying hydrated all day is easy with a refillable water bottle or reusable drinks cup so you can still get a takeout coffee/tea without the plastic waste.
Learn, and audit your practice
There is always room to make practices more efficient and sustainable. Falling into a routine is great but it can always be useful to regularly review activities at work to make sure they are completed in the least resource-intensive way.
Integrating sustainability in Quality Improvement projects is a great way to achieve this, there is an abundance of information on how this can be done on the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare’s website.
Join discussions in your board or trust about the big things
If you are passionate about sustainability and delivering sustainable healthcare, allow your voice to be heard, there are a variety of ways you can achieve this – from staff surveys to finding out if your organisation has an envoy or green champions network.
Credit to the British Medical Journal, the full article can be found at: https://www.bmj.com/content/379/bmj.o2650.full