• Devolved Greater Manchester care system first to produce sustainable development management plan
  • Procurement initiatives aim to slash use of single-use plastic
  • Projects to cut down plastic and carbon already underway

An integrated care system is aiming to cut its use of plastic cutlery, gloves and gowns as part of wide-ranging environmental sustainability plans, HSJ has learned.

Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, which declared a climate emergency in April, also plans to reduce its carbon footprint by shedding 200,000 deliveries per year.

The ICS, which serves 2.8 million people, is the first in the country to draw up a sustainable development management plan — a requirement for providers. It aims to have organisation-specific reports for all its trusts by March, according to an interim 2019-20 document seen by HSJ.

The devolved system aims to save approximately 2 million pieces of cutlery and 800,000 plastic straws and stirrers per year by switching to sustainable alternatives, such as paper straws. A spokesperson told HSJ all trusts should have swapped their cutlery by the end of March.

NHS England aims to cut up to 100 million plastic utensils from hospitals across the country by October next year. Providers including Yorkshire Ambulance Services Trust, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust and Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals FT have also announced savings.

Other initiatives underway at the ICS include a pilot to replace single-use surgical gowns with reusable, laundered versions, and an education scheme to reduce the use of medical gloves. It is hoped cutting glove use will also save occupational health costs by reducing skin issues.

The ICS also plans to reduce its carbon footprint by consolidating deliveries through a central logistics hub. The care system could save some 200,000 deliveries a year according to the business case, potentially reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 1,750 tonnes over 10 years.

Key figures from Greater Manchester’s environmental sustainability plans:

  • Catering switches could save up to 600kg of plastic;
  • Reducing glove usage by up to a third could save approximately 46 million units; and
  • Switching to laundered gowns may reduce costs by 20 per cent.

Although some elements of the sustainability plans offer cost benefits or produce income streams, funding remains a challenge.

Procurement lead for corporate services Neil Hind told HSJ: “When a switch or a change is more expensive for a trust, it may not be the case… that the trusts are able to absorb that. So I think we need to do more work in trying to give a cost benefit when we are making environmental improvements.”

Mr Hind said the ICS was looking to offer a better resourced and funded programme for 2020-21. He added: “A lot of what we’re talking about is in the scope of the NHS long-term plan, so we know it’s in line with the direction of travel in the NHS overall.”

Meanwhile, a south western trust has recently declared a climate emergency. Gloucestershire Hospitals FT, which shared wide-ranging climate plans in its board papers, plans to save paper with an electronic patient record system, use catering oil as biofuel and turn unsoiled patient slide sheets into plastic blocks which will be used to make recycled furniture.

The trust has already saved more than 800 tonnes of carbon dioxide by reducing the use of anaesthetic gas desflurane.

A trust spokesperson told HSJ: “While our programme presents many challenges including changing working practices, ensuring compliant alternatives are available and resetting organisational culture, the trust board and a significant proportion of our staff believe passionately that it is the right thing to do and it will form a key part of our strategic thinking going forward.”

Trust CEO Deborah Lee said: “Climate change is not just an environmental issue, there is now good evidence that climate change is the greatest threat to public health in the 21st century.

“As one of the largest employers in Gloucestershire we have a responsibility to tackle climate change but this decision is not about obligation — it’s about the board’s vision and ambition to make a real difference for our staff, our patients and local people now and for generations to come.”