Despite plastics being a part of our lives for decades, it only feels as though we have woken up to the damage that we may have caused by its forever proliferating use, the environmental equivalent to the headache from the night before. To me, I feel this awareness was endowed upon us by the BBC documentary ‘Blue Planet 2’ and particularly the alarming final episode, leading to plastic waste being an almost permanent topic on social media timelines (well mine at least). This consciousness to the situation has meant items that we have all discarded with neglect are suddenly in the firing line, spawning a number of initiatives such as the governments upcoming 2020 plastic straw, drink stirrer and cotton bud ban.
Despite this discovered moral compass, one sector that seems to have completely avoided the gaze of scrutiny is healthcare. Although in my previous guise as a frontline pharmacist I feel as though there is that scrutiny within healthcare to pharmaceutical waste (see the next blog for that take!), this is usually from the perspective of making monetary savings, with the environmental impact of healthcare provision swept under the rug. And make no mistake it appears to me to be a Mike Tyson uppercut level of impact.
Over the past year I have been working with a NHS Trust to develop a virtual ward service with a focus on administering a course of IV antibiotic therapy in the patients home. To provide this treatment a box has to be made up, with a volume of around 35L, containing all the equipment that is required for a nurse to perform their care. This includes a whole list of items, from syringes to aprons to diluents, the majority of which are made of plastic, wrapped in further plastic. In fact the word used to refer to these items is, ‘consumables’, insinuating that they are to be manufactured, consumed and disposed. This is their purpose, millions of years in the making for their 30 seconds of functionality.
The amount used is considerable, yet these boxes last for one week of once daily administration, requiring restocking for a longer course.
Can you imagine the waste of a whole hospital?
Every time a nurse administers a drug, takes some blood, washes a patient, this plastic waste grows ever bigger, and not just in-patients but also the thousands upon thousands of patients that are seen in clinic every day up and down the country. I understand that for some items and situations, reusing items is not clinically appropriate, but it was reported last year that the NHS Trusts in England use more than 300,000 disposable plastic cups each day.
I realise I am offering no answers to this issue, and with the current pressures on healthcare it may not be seen as a priority, but with this issue currently being the public consciousness, now may be as good a time as any to think about a more sustainable, greener healthcare model.
Jonny Lim. Project Manager