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What is our role in 'green healthcare'?

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There’s a worldwide consensus that we need to take steps to reduce the negative impact humans are having on the environment.

One major focus is to reduce global warming by seeking alternatives to the burning of fossil fuels, which release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 

The long-term consequences of this are widely known. Climate change, changing patterns of disease and issues with supplies of food and essential products are all potentially devastating and deadly side effects of global warming. Climate change has even been described as the 21st century’s greatest threat to global health.

As our role as future nurses is to reduce harm and protect our patients, it is our duty to consider the potentially devastating effects that climate change may have on global health and try to reduce these risks wherever possible.

”We are the future of the NHS and being aware of the small habits that we can adopt to combat global warming can make a difference”

Climate change may seem like a gigantic global issue and you may well be wondering what student nurses can do to make even a small difference?

Let’s look at the numbers. The NHS has 1.7 million employees and is the fifth largest employer worldwide. In addition, nurses and midwives make up just below 26% of those 1.7 million employees.

So, as student nurses, we are the future of the NHS and being aware of the small habits that we can adopt to combat global warming can make a difference.

The NHS is already making significant changes to try and meet its target of reducing CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050.

However, to be successful, the staff involved in implementing these changes need to be motivated and care passionately about helping the environment. Motivated staff are more likely to welcome and embrace new changes in clinical practice – and then maintain them.

On a busy day on the wards, where you are completely run off your feet with a million tasks to do, preventing climate change is probably not a top priority. Our patients come first and it is essential to providing the highest quality care.

Clearly it’s not up to the nursing staff to create new, more environmentally friendly equipment or change specific trust protocol, but being mindful of our actions can help to reduce environmental harm.

For example, when you’re grabbing some gloves for a simple procedure, just grab two gloves of the right size instead of grabbing a handful and then having to throw them away. The glove manufacturing process releases CO2, as does transporting them to the hospital and their eventual disposal.

It may seem like a small change but cutting down on the number of gloves and unnecessary equipment used can have a positive environmental impact and save the NHS vital money. Creating positive changes will also help increase the likelihood of new interventions being successful.

If enough nurses and NHS staff members show an interest in making a ‘greener’ health service, this may help to create a better environment for the future, as well as saving the NHS money and making clinical practice more efficient.

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