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Brighton & Sussex Medical School

The BSMS Sustainable healthcare group

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BSMS Sustainable healthcare group

The BSMS Healthcare Sustainability Group is a leading group in research and education relating to environmental, social and financial elements of sustainability in health and healthcare.

Our core functions are to:

  • Research and influence policy, knowledge, attitudes, and behaviour relating to sustainability in health and healthcare
  • Evaluate the environmental and social (including labour rights) impacts of healthcare and develop responses to mitigate these 
  • Collaborate in development of lean health service design
  • Build capacity in teaching and learning on sustainable health and sustainable healthcare
surgeon in an operating theatre

What is sustainable healthcare?

We use a triple bottom line definition of sustainability, taking into account environmental, social and financial elements. Healthcare systems and processes can only be considered sustainable where all three elements (also termed ‘People, Planet and Profits’) intersect and are upheld. 


Importance of environmental sustainability

Climate change is the greatest threat to public health in the 21st century, but provision of healthcare itself impacts on our environment. For example, the NHS generates around 22 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) each year in England, and 5.4% of net UK greenhouse gas emissions. The US healthcare industry generates over 1.7 million tonnes of plastic waste per year, and this is likely to rise given our increasing reliance on single-use plastics. The NHS is a major contributor to air pollution, responsible for 3.5% of all road travel in England.


Importance of social sustainability

Provision of healthcare also impacts on the lives of patients, their families, allied healthcare professionals, and those within the healthcare supply chain. The majority of the products we use within healthcare are manufactured overseas, and there are reports of widespread violations of labour rights in the manufacture of medical gloves, face masks, surgical instruments, and medical textiles.


Importance of financial sustainability

Healthcare spending has increased in line with an ageing population and medical advances. For health systems to remain financially viable requires efficient use of our resources and improved systems for delivery of care as well as an increased focus on disease prevention.

Venn diagram to show the three parts of sustainability healthcare system

Image of single use plastic medical equipment

Research

Research projects

We pursue a number of research interests in the sustainability of health systems. For instance, we use hybrid carbon footprinting methods to identify carbon hotspots within the operating theatre, life cycle assessments of the environmental impact of reusable versus single-use surgical items, and quantify the carbon footprint of healthcare waste and decontamination processes, to identify environmentally preferable options. We have also led action-research projects aimed at addressing precarious working conditions and modern slavery in the production of healthcare goods, have evaluated risk of labour rights abuse in healthcare supply chains and led national and international policy debates on this topic. 


Research repository

  • Rizan C, Bhutta MF, Reed M, Lillywhite R. The carbon footprint of waste streams in a UK hospital. Journal of Cleaner Production.2020. *Available online ahead of print. doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2020.125446. Read it here >
  • Trueba ML, Bhutta MF, Shahvisi A Instruments of health and harm: how the procurement of healthcare goods contributes to global health inequality Journal of Medical Ethics  Published Online First: 24 August 2020. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2020-10628 
  • Starup-Hansen J, Dunne H, Sadler J, Jones A, Okorie M. Climate change in healthcare: Exploring the potential role of inhaler prescribing. Pharmacol Res Perspect. 2020 Dec;8(6): e 00675
  • Rizan C, Steinbach I, Nicholson R, Lillywhite R, Reed M, Bhutta MF. The carbon footprint of operating theatres: a systematic review. Annals of Surgery. 2020; 272(6):986-995. Read it here >
  • Rizan C, Reed M, Mortimer F, Jones A, Stancliffe R, Bhutta MF. Using surgical sustainability principles to improve planetary health and optimise surgical services following COVID-19. 2020; The Bulletin. 102 (5). 177-181. Read it here >
  • Rizan C, Mortimer F, Stancliffe R, Bhutta MF. Plastics in healthcare: time for a re-evaluation. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 2020; 113(2):49-53. Read it here >
  • Rizan C, Das P, Low R, Harden S, Flaherty B, Welland T, Bhutta MF. A streamlined pathway for patients with unilateral tinnitus: our experience of 22 patients. Clinical Otolaryngology. 2018; 44(2): 191-196. Read it here >
  • Bhutta MF. Time for a global response to labour rights violations in the manufacture of health-care goods. Bull World Health Organ. 2017 May 1;95(5):314-314A. Read it here >
  • Bhutta MF. Fair and ethical trade in health procurement Lancet. 2008 Dec 6;372(9654):1935-7. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(08)61826-7. 
  • Bhutta MF. Fair trade for surgical instruments. BMJ. 2006 Aug 5;333(7562):297-9. doi: 10.1136/bmj.38901.619074.55.. PMID: 16877453 
students study during lecture

Education

Teaching and learning on sustainable healthcare

The key learning outcomes for sustainable healthcare

  1. Describe how the environment and human health interact at different levels
  2. Demonstrate the knowledge and skills needed to improve the environmental sustainability of health systems
  3. Discuss how the duty of a doctor to protect and promote health is shaped by the dependence of human health on the local and global environment 

Education on sustainable health and healthcare can therefore be framed as understanding how the environment impacts on health (eg air pollution as a risk factor for respiratory disease), the impact of healthcare on the environment (eg the carbon footprint of prescribing), ways to reduce the environmental impact of healthcare (eg lower carbon inhalers) and health promotion strategies (eg physical activity to improve mental health). 

The General Medical Council Outcomes for Graduates state that: “Newly qualified doctors must be able to apply the principles, methods and knowledge of population health and the improvement of health and sustainable healthcare to medical practice”.

 

Undergraduate curriculum at BSMS

Teaching on sustainable health and healthcare in the undergraduate curriculum includes: 

  • ‘Environment and Health’ in year 1 which looks at the interactions between the environment and health using air pollution and food as examples
  • ‘Sustainable Healthcare’ in year 2 which examines the impact of healthcare on the environment and ways in which healthcare can be made more sustainable
  • ‘Environment and Health’ in the Global health day in year 4

Further teaching on sustainable healthcare is in development for years 3 and 4. 

 

Educational Events

The SHARE conference, organised jointly between University of Brighton School of Health Sciences and BSMS, is an annual conference which aims to share good practice between healthcare professionals, students and service users on topics related to sustainability and health and healthcare practice. Read more about the conference via the link below.

Read more about the conference here >


Green Medicine Society

The BSMS Green Medicine Society is a student-run organisation that raises awareness of the impact that climate change has on health and also the impact that healthcare has on climate change and the wider environment, as well as looking at ways to make healthcare more sustainable. They run talks, seminars, workshops and extracurricular events to promote medical student engagement in planetary health. If you would like to join or get involved, please contact the society at bsmsgreenmedicine@gmail.com or follow them on social media.

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