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The pandemic was a huge wake-up call on the impact healthcare is having on the environment.

Streets littered with used face masks and other Covid-related waste were a daily reminder of the problem. This highlights the urgent need for more sustainable healthcare.

So, what can be done?

Actions for change

In regards to PPE, the World Health Organisation has identified various ways to reduce the environmental impact of our sector. These include:1

These principles can be applied to buildings, equipment and even anaesthetic gases. And we're showing this at our flagship Cromwell Hospital in London.

New economic model

Dr Robin Clark, Medical Director of Bupa UK says,

We need to move away from the traditional make-use-dispose economic model to a new system of circular healthcare, where resources are kept in use for as long as possible through recovery and use in a safe way.

Start ups and sustainability

Anna Russell, Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability Director of Bupa Global & UK says,

“All organisations will need to challenge themselves to explore innovative partnerships with and to collaborate across sectors and disciplines. For example at Bupa , we launched eco-Disruptive, a global initiative which encourages our teams to work with sustainability start-ups. Our goal is to be working with 500 start-ups.2

"We've also launched our Sustainability Academy to upskill our leadership on climate change, explore how it will impact our business and assess how our business impacts the environment."

Cromwell's best practice

We are putting this plan into action at our Cromwell Hospital in London.

Andrew Fairweather, Strategic Change and Implementation Director, Cromwell Hospital says,

The changes we have made, and continue to make, at the Cromwell Hospital provide an exciting example of what can be achieved through adaption and innovation.

Although the building itself is more than 40 years old, we're making it more energy efficient by:

  • installing sensors for air conditioning and lighting
  • by replacing inefficient air handling units

The hospital also runs on 100% renewable electricity.3

Staff have helped us identify and target avoidable waste. A water filtration system has eliminated the use of 140,000 single-use plastic bottles a year.3

Savings and safety

This saved £4,000 annually. It also adds another level of patient safety because different coloured trays are used to reduce the risk of cross contamination.

And emergency drugs are placed on yellow trays. This makes it easier for clinicians to spot them quickly.

Look at our partnership with Upcycled Medical for example. They were one of the start-ups showcased in our eco-Disruptive programme. All scrubs are now made from 65% polyester. The polyester is made from recycled plastic:

25 percent 

25% of which is recovered from the ocean5

35 percent 

35% organically grown cotton5

We are now looking at bringing in patient gowns which are made from woodchips.6


Earlier this year, another partnership from our eco-Disruptive programme saw the Cromwell become the first UK private hospital to capture and recycle anaesthetic waste.4

95 percent 

Around 95% of the anaesthetic used in theatres is exhaled by patients. This is the equivalent of 97,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide in the UK alone.

99 percent 

The SID Dock device, developed by SageTech Medical, is a compact free-standing unit which captures 99.99% of this waste anaesthetic, holding it in a reusable storage canister.

Full canisters are returned to SageTech Medical. The contents are purified and returned to the pharmaceutical supply chain.

Scope for improvements

Similarly, until this year, the Cromwell used metal single-use laryngoscope handles containing lithium iron batteries. They were incinerated after use.

Now, they use re-usable metal handles from Timesco. They contain rechargeable batteries and can be sterilised in an autoclave up to Y,000 times.7

This will save £6,000 annually and prevents the incineration of 1,900 handles, along with their lithium batteries every year.

High priority

Resources and guide

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