Greening-Up Medication Round

Sabrina Carter is a nurse on a mission to eliminate unnecessary plastic use from healthcare; she’s gone green with the medication round and the word is spreading…

Greening-Up Medication Round

A morning revelation

Sabrina’s story starts 8am on a Tuesday morning doing the medication round on her ward…

“It was a batch of single-use cups all neatly (and excessively) packaged, sitting on the clinic counter that caught my attention; I realised that we, as a service community, seemed to think we were exempt from the global climate emergency. We have fallen into this trap of disconnect with the environment; favouring seemingly faster options at the expense of its cost to our planet, our health and our NHS pockets.”

“This feeling of needless waste was compounded by a rather sobering conversation with a service-user during medication round; they said ‘so what happens to all these plastic cups after they go in the bin?’  My voice trailed off as I replied “unfortunately the waste will go straight to landfill’. We were unnecessarily polluting the planet on a day-in day-out basis and I decided that something needed to change thing for the better.”

Do the maths – sustainable choices add up

“On a 20 bedded acute inpatient ward, we were using approximately 22,000 cups a year just for medication rounds alone (assuming 20 service-users have medication 3 times a day). At a cost of up to £49 a box – that’s potentially £ 900 a year on each ward. Plus the cost of taking away the waste after they’ve been used.”

“Thinking sustainably isn’t something I was taught in nurse training (although I think we should be) but I firmly believe it’s our duty in the NHS to use public funds responsibly and for the greater good. People may be practicing “sustainably” without even realising it, but the term itself doesn’t yet seem to be commonplace in the workforce vocabulary – that needs to change.”

“It’s not just about our responsibility as health professionals. Arguably, rigid reusable cups can be easier to hold for service-users; particularly when side effects from medications can make holding objects difficult. They can even help people feel more valued when given ‘normal’ cups rather than disposable ones. It’s really important to make sure the cups are sterilized after each use but that is easy to do as there is a sterilizer in the kitchen.”

Bringing people along builds momentum

“As with implementing any kind of change on the ward, it’s been crucial to effectively communicate with all members of the service community. Grabbing people’s attention, building a sense of urgency and motivating people at all levels to lead the change themselves through small alterations to their practice has been key. Small changes should not simply be made through focusing efforts on either service-users or staff. This has to be a community effort.”

“My primary aim is to raise awareness of the importance of sustainability on the ward and to focus on eliminating (or reducing when practical and safe) the use of single-use items used for food, drinks, and medication dispensing. I got my manager’s support and I’m talking to the ward clerk about the items we buy, to eliminate as many disposable items as possible and that can be safely got rid of”

Spreading the word

“I’ve embraced communicating about this with everyone, from team and community meetings, and update emails to signs in communal areas.  It hasn’t all been plain sailing; change doesn’t happen overnight and some people will naturally warm to these ideas faster than others. But when I look around the ward and see polystyrene cups replaced with reusable mugs and staff going for their next round of tea in the office carrying their own reusable flask, I know that something must be slowly working.”

“I am delighted that colleagues on other wards are taking up the challenge and looking for ways to green their service-provision too. Although I am still spotting disposables around and perhaps at some point we need to enshrine these new ways of working into policy.”

You can do it too

“I encourage anyone to lead on changes within their workplace, no matter how big or small they may be. Let’s approach our service communities with an open and curious mind. Let’s think critically about where resources are coming from and how we use them, considering how you can minimise your impact on the planet both as an individual and as a team. Let’s not wait for change to come from somebody else.”

“Each service has its own sustainability needs, whether that’s looking at procurement, diet, waste management, transportation and energy/water use, but fundamentally we all have a duty to educate ourselves and take the actions necessary to green-up our services. So let’s start asking those questions and start finding those solutions.”