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Sustainable healthcare Q2 2022

The role of industry and innovation in healthcare sustainability

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Paul Durrands

Chief Operating Officer, Oxford AHSN and Co-sustainability Lead for the National AHSN Network

When healthcare innovation is done right, it is proven to improve patient outcomes; enhance patient experience; create efficiencies in care; and save the NHS money.

Healthcare innovation can also have a significant impact on the environment – whether that is indirectly, for example, through reducing unnecessary patient travel. Or more directly, by introducing new environmentally friendly products or technologies, made of more sustainable materials and reducing waste by making products reusable or repairable.  

Collaborating to make big improvements  

If healthcare providers want to significantly reduce their impact on the environment, innovation and a more sustainable healthcare industry’s supply chain will be essential – by collaborating we can bring about bigger, better and more rapid improvements. 

Here are just a few examples of healthcare innovations that are making an impact on the environment: 

  • The SENTINEL programme that aims to optimise the use of anti-inflammatory ‘preventer’ inhalers. They treat the underlying inflammation of asthma, while reducing the reliance on and prescribing of blue ‘reliever’ inhalers (SABA inhalers) and the greenhouse gas emissions they produce. Early data showed that changes in prescribing reduced the number of blue inhalers used by over 16,300 units, equating to an offset of over 457 metric tonnes in CO2 emissions. 
  • Single use devices are constructed using earthly resources, sent to a hospital where they are used once and then binned. Remanufacturing these devices instead of sending them to waste adds circularity and shifts the process to reuse instead of disposal. We’ve worked with Vanguard Medical Devices limited who specialise in remanufacturing these devices to reduce waste, CO2 and demand on raw materials. As well as a positive impact on the environment this can lead to savings through payment for collected devices; reduced costs of remanufactured devices; and a reduction in waste. 
  • Placental growth factor (PlGF) tests for pre-eclampsia, which reduce diagnosis time and speeds up treatment for women who are at risk of developing severe complications. This in turn prevents serious illness and reduces the numbers of hospital admissions. We estimate that rolling out PlGF in 2020/21 saved approximately 1,149 tonnes CO2e, equivalent to 3,043,660 miles driven. 

Implementing best practice  

This is just a snapshot of the way innovation is being used to bring about a greener NHS. The AHSNs work across the country to harness innovation and spread this type of best practice. We are building environmental sustainability into our support to innovators and to the NHS.  

England’s 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) are commissioned by the NHS to spread healthcare innovation. To find out more about the AHSNs, visit: www.ahsnnetwork.com

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