Turning the tide on NHS waste

A sea change in practice is needed to reduce the amount of waste in the NHS, says Jane Bates

A sea change in practice is needed to reduce the amount of waste in the NHS, says Jane Bates

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‘Ow! Ow!’ I thought, but kept my pain to myself. Sister in theatres had set the bar high when it came to handling instruments from our steam steriliser, claiming she had asbestos fingers.

The trouble was, she seemed to expect us all to be equally insensitive – or maybe just as stoic – when it came to handling hot metal.

In those days, as little as possible was disposable when it came to hospital equipment. We had our own autoclave sterilising chambers (hence the throbbing finger-tips), and great vats of Milton solution to sterilise babies’ bottles. Even the mops we used to clean beds between patients were seeped in a powerful disinfectant called Lysol, and used again and again.

Throwaway lifestyle

Thrift was drummed into us as nursing students from the start. Now, with so many items we use being disposable, it goes against the grain to throw away those single-use forceps. Single-use anything, in fact, including our plastic single-use teaspoons which I clean carefully and put back into circulation.

With the seas awash with non-biodegradable rubbish, the tide is turning. Landfill sites are literally heaving, and society is realising that the throwaway lifestyle is unsustainable.

Embracing greenness

So what is the NHS doing about it? We must be one of the greatest generators of waste, certainly in the UK, maybe even on the planet.  Some hospitals have embraced greenness with enthusiasm, but others have a very long way to go.

Developing better methods of table-top sterilisation would be a start, burnt fingers notwithstanding, as would more eco-friendly waste disposal. The NHS needs a sea change in its practice, before the seas change for good and we end up with a global catastrophe.

Jane Bates is an ophthalmic nurse in Hampshire 


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