Infection prevention through good waste management

The NHS spends more than £700m each year on waste disposal. The vast majority of this was spent in the disposal of clinical waste. It is clear that this figure is constantly on the rise but also that there are many ways in which the NHS could benefit from more efficient waste disposal solutions that are available from specialist companies across the UK.

The GPT Waste Management White Paper states that “Poor management of medical waste potentially exposes hospital staff, healthcare workers, waste handlers, patients and the community at large to infection, toxic effects and injuries, and risks polluting the environment. It is essential that the person responsible for managing the waste within each healthcare establishment fully understands its waste streams and the correct methods of disposal for each stream.”

There are numerous trials in action whose objective it is to provide more efficient waste management strategies in the myriad relevant NHS departments. One such trial was carried out recently in St Woolos Hospital, Newport. This involved looking at a brand new method of treating sterilisation wrap as used in operating theatres worldwide to package surgical instruments and equipment to protect them from bacteria and other airborne contaminants. During the trial a ‘Sterimelt’ machine made by Thermal Compaction Group was put into action to produce sanitised briquettes from the polypropylene in the wrap. The machine heated the wrap (two tonnes per month as used in this hospital alone!) in order to decrease the volume of the sheets and create a material that can be repurposed to be used in a wide range of products, from blankets to ropes and chairs or stationary. The savings as a result of this project were £1,000 per month, not to mention the environmental benefits.

Much of the clinical waste in NHS hospitals is dealt with by industrial macerators, many of which are outdated and inefficient. The potential for problems in using outdated macerators are many – from increased smell, leading to decreased staff morale and the risk of infection to downtime and costly repairs. There are some truly outstanding new macerators that are tailor-made for healthcare situations, like the Haigh Quattro and Solo which are small, safe and quiet, offering enhanced convenience and effectiveness for carers, ensuring smooth operation hundreds of times per day. By upgrading to such high quality, quiet and ultra-efficient macerators, a sluice room can become a much more efficient place for waste disposal across a wealth of different NHS environments.

Single use instrument recycling is another effective and environmentally friendly waste disposal solution for NHS hospitals. Most single-use metal instruments are, quite appallingly, disposed of via high temperature incineration, then landfill. There are both cost and carbon benefits to moving to a recycling model. Overall waste disposal efficiency in NHS hospitals could be greatly enhanced by properly and correctly and accurately segregating waste. Sometimes, when complacency has crept in and resources are stretched to their limits, the best way to implement change is to get outside help from specialist waste disposal companies to help to come up with a plan to eradicate inefficiency.