We began working to help incorporate sustainability in healthcare five years ago. Having seen our Green Impact programme’s positive effects at the University of Bristol, University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust (UHB) approached us to see if we could tailor the sustainability toolkit for them. It worked brilliantly. The flexibility of Green Impact’s success criteria means that they can incorporate the priorities, goals and targets of each unique context. We soon had other NHS trusts joining us, and we now work with eight across the UK.
Working with sustainability in healthcare has a lot of scope. There are the frontline clinical staff, huge number of administrative staff, cleaners and porters, catering facilities, gardeners, research and laboratory facilities and some hospitals even have residential areas for staff. And with so many patients, sustainability work gets a lot of visibility!
In 2013, the University of Bristol’s Dental Postgraduate Department, who had taken part in the University’s Green Impact programme for several years, decided to develop a dentistry specific toolkit as an Excellence Project. The programme then separated from the University and was available to dentists across the south-west of the UK. This innovative scheme was incredibly successful, attracting around 60 dental practices per year and lots of very positive feedback for 3 years. Dental practices taking part not only saw energy, carbon and financial savings, but were also able to gain extra points on applications to hire trainees by demonstrating their sustainability work. Their patients also benefited by improved cycle facilities, information about public transport and reduced usage of mercury in dental products such as fillings.
In 2013 we started working with GP surgeries, also in partnership with the University of Bristol, and working with the Royal College of GPs (RCGP). This time, when first developing the toolkit, we created a board consisting of NUS sustainability professionals, current and trainee GPs, and medical students. Through a brainstorming process we came up with hundreds of potential criteria and then rated them based on ease and impact of implementation. The 100 criteria that scored the best were then chosen to be included in the Green Impact pilot. Six GP surgeries across Bristol were chosen as ‘Pathfinder Practices’ to take part in the pilot and test the idea. The first iteration of the programme was a success, reaching 200 members of staff across the 6 practices and with over 252 actions completed (123 as a result of Green Impact) in just 6 weeks. We were also able to demonstrate that staff had become more aware of and concerned about issues surrounding sustainability as a direct result of taking part in the programme. The RCGP now funds the programme and makes it available to all GP surgeries across the UK, in order for them to become more sustainable and gain recognition for their efforts.
Since then, we have also been in touch with several other Royal Colleges to discuss the option of similar programmes - for example for nurses, psychiatrists and physicians. It provides an excellent opportunity to directly contact clinicians and influence their everyday working to make sure they are operating in the most efficient and positive way.
Leading the way on staff engagement with sustainabiltiy
We are now being recognised nationally for our work. Running Green Impact in UHB, North Bristol NHS Trust (NBT) and the University of Bristol has allowed us to bring the three organisations together across the city and unite them in their sustainability efforts. The Sustainable Development Unit - joint funded by the NHS and Public Health England - is a small department that creates annual health check reports of the sector, as well as providing guidance, templates and support for improving sustainability in healthcare. In their most recent health check report, launched in February 2017, they used our work across Bristol as a case study of successful staff engagement.
We are now working with the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare (CSH), a small charity based in Oxford, to improve clinician engagement through the programme. Traditionally, Green Impact has been very successful at engaging office and administrative staff – we now want to focus on reaching frontline clinical staff to help them improve the efficiency and impacts of their work. For the first time, we are working with Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Trust (NUTH), and as a part of their Green Impact programme they will be benefiting from 2 days of CSH’s time to feed into clinician engagement on the ground at the hospital. This is a smaller version of a new bolt-on we have created with CSH, called Better Healthcare, which weaves an explicit focus on clinician engagement through the entire programme.
Though much of this work is in the wider community, we continue to include students in everything we do. Through engaging with the kind of work that goes on behind the scenes in healthcare organisations to keep them running environmentally, ethically and efficiently, students gain an appreciation of how vital the sustainability movement is across all sectors. Staff in healthcare organisations and students alike are plagued with high workloads and a shortage of time; so collaboration and volunteering as project assistants can be a big help to Green Impact teams. This cross sector working demonstrates how even a few enthusiastic people can have a large impact.