Traditionally, hospitals have not been great at achieving sustainability. However, as the necessity for it has reached people in the formal and informal sectors, healthcare providers have started to pay tribute to sustainability. The National Health Service in the UK has taken this essential value onboard and the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare has been established.
Sustainability in healthcare is generally considered under three headings, these being the environmental, social, and economic arenas. It has become standard practice in healthcare to be guided by this trio, whether changing a process or determining what equipment to buy. Even architects who design hospitals have started drawing up plans that meet the sustainability criteria.
We take a closer look at sustainability in healthcare by exploring the three pillars on which it stands.
All activities in healthcare are required to be directed according to the three principles. Environmental sustainability in healthcare demands an assessment of the possible environmental effects that policies, procedures, processes, purchases of medical equipment, and actions will have on the earth and its atmosphere. Plans must be scrutinised for ways to decrease the carbon footprint.
Effects that must be screened for are the production of waste, water pollution from pharmaceuticals and chemicals, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. Care providers and officials are all charged with this responsibility. Some of the consequences of not adhering to environmental sustainability are:
- Mortality rate increased due to extreme weather conditions, such as hypothermia, heat exhaustion, severe dehydration, and heatstroke.
- Mortality rate increased by dangerous events like flooding.
- Increased frequency and seriousness of diseases affecting the cardiovascular and respiratory systems of the body.
How the NHS Has Responded
The NHS committed to achieving a carbon net zero in 2022 and embarked on the “A Greener NHS” programme. Historically the NHS is the culprit of four percent of the total carbon emissions in England. This figure is not surprising, given that the NHS is the single largest employer in the country.
The NHS has undertaken to improve sustainability in how it takes care of its patients and delivers its services by:
- Partnering with the pharmaceutical corporations in lowering the carbon emissions produced by e.g., gases for anaesthetic and inhalers.
- Leveraging new technologies to get away from plastics for medicine containers.
- Opting for equipment that can be reused in lieu of disposable items.
- Reducing the carbon footprint in medical procedures.
- Decreasing travel for patients, as long drives add to the carbon burden, by providing closer options for receiving hospital care.
Social sustainability encompasses taking steps to increase the wellbeing of the populace. This is achieved by providing equitable services, improving and hastening recovery rates with measures like controlling infections better, and greater accessibility by primary care decentralisation. Social sustainability takes the circumstances of its patients into account and seeks to adapt services accordingly.
Economic sustainability, in general, includes all initiatives that encourage the economy to grow over the long term without impacting other sustainability measures negatively. It involves high employment rates, adequate incomes, and education. For the healthcare system, profits and savings, cost-effective medical supplies from a medical supermarket, energy conservation, purchasing decisions, and research and development all play a role. Outsourcing non-core functions allows the institution to focus on its areas of service delivery.
Healthcare in the UK has embraced sustainability values and this benefits patients too.
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