The Reducing Waste Series: Health Care

The NHS is under more pressure than ever before. It’s under financial pressure, the workforce is stretched to its limits, and it also needs to reduce its carbon emissions - all reasons why it has to reduce waste and use its precious resources more efficiently.

Less waste means that more money can be invested back into patient care, which can only be a good thing for all of us.

Reducing waste

Practical steps that can be taken to reduce waste in health care include:

  • Having effective stock rotation systems in place
  • Checking patients aren’t still receiving medication they aren’t taking
  • Patients should be actively encouraged to return any equipment they aren’t using
  • All NHS Trusts should reuse and recycle by default, rather than making landfill or incineration the go-to option
  • All Trusts should make sure staff know how to properly segregate waste so it can be more easily recycled
  • Staff need to work with purchasing departments to reduce incidences of over-ordering and allowing equipment or other items to expire

Reusing items

Where producing waste is unavoidable, the next best option is to reuse it. Items like crutches and other equipment can be checked, cleaned, and repaired, and reused with other patients. Of course, hygiene and infection control is a concern in healthcare, and many items are single-use, because of the risk of cross-infection with bugs like MRSA. Single-use items must not be reused for this reason.

Recycling

Healthcare waste is always segregated because as well as general waste, there’s clinical waste and hygiene waste, all of which can be considered hazardous. Hazardous waste such as clinical waste must always be incinerated, and this is very costly. Because this waste has to be disposed of by specialist companies, disposal costs around 3.5 times more than general waste disposal.