Publish date: 17 January 2022

Making endoscopy greener and more sustainable the Northumbria Healthcare way

A portrait of a woman in scrubs. She is holding some medical equipment.

‘Small changes combine to make a big difference’ – that’s the mantra behind the Northumbria Healthcare endoscopy team’s efforts to become more sustainable.

And the department’s work to reduce its environmental impact is being highlighted as an example to others in the NHS, with several national and international conference appearances lined up for 2022.

Leigh Donnelly, a nurse specialist and the endoscopy training lead at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (pictured prior to Covid-19), is the driving force behind the sustainability project and she will be speaking at the National Gastrointestinal Nursing Conference in London in January.

She will follow this up by chairing the session on sustainability at the European Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy event in Prague in April before addressing a special symposium at the British Society of Gastroenterology’s (BSG) national conference in Birmingham in June.

This sharing of good practice is important as endoscopy is the third highest emitter of waste in the NHS, due to the amount of non-recyclable items used and the requirement for resource-heavy decontamination processes.

But when the endoscopy team at Northumbria Healthcare began in earnest to focus on their environmental impact in November 2020, they realised that there were a number of quick wins, such as making sure there were recycling bins in place and ensuring waste was segregated rather than all discarded in the same place.

This led to work to recycle more of the waste produced, notably hard plastics, teaming up with a North East-based firm to test all of the items and then work out which can be converted into chips for use in industry.

A key element was setting up a green champions scheme; there is one in place for each of the four units – at Alnwick, Hexham, North Tyneside and Wansbeck hospitals, with a combined effort taking place at the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital (NSECH) in Cramlington.

“Our green champions are the linchpins on the ground, because they are challenging people on a daily basis,” said Leigh.

Towards the start of the department’s journey, she wrote a blog, Green Endoscopy Champions – Working towards a Sustainable Future, for the BSG, which was received extremely well, underlining Northumbria Healthcare’s forward-thinking approach to making endoscopy more sustainable. It led to Leigh being contacted by a range of other trusts and she is acting as a mentor for some, as well as sharing good practice or doing presentations with others.

“Northumbria Healthcare’s endoscopy unit is leading the way nationally on this, but we need to keep the momentum going,” Leigh said. “Small changes do add up to make a big difference, but we are also turning out attention to more significant projects now.”

These include work on the production and use of sterile water, challenging suppliers on waste and packaging, and the use of nitrous oxide, or gas and air, which has a global warming potential around 300 times that of carbon dioxide and remains in the atmosphere for more than a century.

But Leigh is keen to stress that none of the sustainability changes will result in any detriment to the care provided to patients.

“Providing a top-quality service to our patients is always our main priority, but reducing our environmental impact is also very important and something that many of our patients are interested in as well,” she added.

Media contact

Ben O’Connell, media and communications officer

Benjamin.O’ or 07833 046680.