Greener initiatives in podiatry
In October 2020, the NHS became the world’s first health service to commit to reaching carbon net zero, in response to the profound and growing threat to health posed by climate change.
We've been speaking to some of our members and looking at some of the green initiatives that podiatrists have been implementing in their departments and clinics to help reduce their carbon footprint.
Increase in telehealth
The scope of telehealth services has expanded hugely since the pandemic. For some teams, this meant utilising existing infrastructures and for others, whole new processes were created. Since 2020, video and telephone consultations have become far more commonplace in podiatric practice. As well as reducing the carbon footprint of patients, telehealth has provided benefits to patients who have difficulty accessing transport or have mobility issues.
For Grant Podiatry in Falkirk telehealth will be a feature of their clinical offering for the foreseeable future. Clinic Director Nikki Grant said:
“Whilst we were unsure of telehealth appointments initially, we have found them to be an efficient way of working with many patients with MSK needs”.
Initially introduced during lockdown, the practice has found added benefits aside from the environmental impact.
“It really helps to meet patients virtually without layers of PPE, especially children, as it reduces the anxiety and increases the patient compliance with treatment plans.
Additionally, it has allowed a staff member to continue podiatric work despite a change in their physical health. Without telehealth, they would have had to reduce their hours so it has helped make us more adaptive to our team’s wellbeing too.”
With domiciliary visits an essential component of providing care, many podiatrists are looking to reduce their impact on the environment when travelling to patients' homes.
Electric bikes were the solution for NHS Lothian, whereas Birmingham Community Healthcare Foundation NHS Trust now has a fleet of electric cars for their team to use when out in the community. Eco-friendly travel solutions are appearing for healthcare workers across the UK and will hopefully continue to expand.
Reducation in single-use plastics
While at home many of us have been able to reduce our single-use plastics, this proves more challenging in the clinical environment. PPE has proved an area of particular difficulty, especially over the pandemic.
Roisin Connell, a private practitioner in Northern Ireland, has cut down on waste by investing in reusable PPE that can be safely decontaminated. Visors, aprons and medical-grade masks that can be used within the strict infection control rules have all been purchased for her clinic.
She has also made the swap from single-use decontamination wipes to individual cotton cloths that are used in conjunction with medical-grade disinfectant to clean the clinical surfaces. These are used once, then laundered at 60oC in line with infection control guidelines before reuse. Clinical waste disposal will often be by incineration and not landfill, but by reducing the amount going to disposal the emissions from incineration can be reduced.
Reusable instruments are another popular way of decreasing plastic waste with many options for clinicians to consider. For surgical treatments, some clinicians are making a return to the reusable cartridge syringes instead of single-use plastic holders and reusable gallipots over single-use surgical packs.
There are many simple swaps that can be made in clinics to help reduce your footprint. For Stirling Podiatry in Central Scotland, they have been making small changes wherever they can. Lead Podiatrist Emma McConnachie told us:
“As well as using reusable instruments and PPE, we have looked at our general supplies. We moved to electronic notes and patient forms and our leaflets and cards are now printed on recycled paper. Our cleaning materials are all refilled from bulk bottles where available and we even switched our toilet paper to a recycled, plastic-free version which is carbon neutral. As well as being better for the environment, it has also proved to be far more cost-effective than we thought it would be. It has actually reduced our costs for the products we are now buying.”
Waste and recycling
Encouraging recycling and less wasteful practices in the workplace is an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint. Segregation of waste, easy access to recycling and being mindful of supply wastage are all ways to help. As part of the Greener NHS campaign, many departments have been recording their efforts to reduce their waste.
You can read the case studies on the SUSQi website.
Looking into how your clinic is lit and heated is another way to reduce your footprint. Stirling Podiatry now sources its gas from greener energy suppliers and moved to LED lighting in their practice.
“Our electricity bill reduced dramatically as a result of the move to LED lighting from fluorescent. Whilst there was an initial outlay for the cost, our energy bill savings balanced this out within two and a half years of installation”.
With many grants, interest-free loans and advice now available to encourage reducing the carbon footprint of businesses it is worth looking into the resources in your area.
- Download A UK regional survey of public perceptions about environmental sustainability within podiatric healthcare. Joanne Chua, Abiola Kingsley-Fabarode, Sarah Goulden, Claire Taylor, and Lindsey Cherry
- Download Show me how and I'll do it. A mixed methods exploration of stakeholder beliefs about environmental sustainability in podiatric practice. By Kathryn Longstaff and Edward McIntyre, supervised by Dr Lindsey Cherry
- Visit Centre for Sustainable Healthcare
- Read Journal of Foot and Ankle Research article on 'Green Podiatry'
- Watch Australian Podiatry Association's conference presentation on sustainable podiatry here
- Watch Dr Angela Evans discuss sustainable podiatry
- Access Green Podiatry Learning and Teaching modules here.
- Read Incorporating ‘Green Podiatry’ into your clinic, and into your life (Journal of Foot and Ankle Research 2022)
- Read ‘Green podiatry’ - reducing our carbon footprints. Lessons from a sustainability panel
- Read UK Health Alliance on Climate Change overview
- Read Council of Deans of Health: Guidance: Education for sustainable healthcare for pre-reg AHP programmes
- Access NHS England’s Greener NHS resources
- Access NHS England’s Greener Allied Health Professional hub
- Visit NHS Scotland’s Our NHS Our People Our Planet
- Visit Public Health Wales’s Health and Sustainability
- Read NHS Wales Decarbonisation Strategic Delivery Plan
- Read Northern Ireland Public Health Agency’s Build Sustainable Communities
- Read Professional Bodies Climate Action Charter