The shock­ing waste in our health ser­vice:

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Front Page - Dr Pat Har­rold:

It is dif­fi­cult to be a doc­tor and be “green”, or even slightly en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly. You would think health pro­fes­sion­als would take a lead in en­vi­ron­men­tal mat­ters, but since the days when the late Prof Ris­teárd Mulc­ahy cut a lonely fig­ure cy­cling to work for the sake of his health and na­ture, noth­ing seems to have changed.

It has be­come clear that it is waste­ful, im­moral and down­right wrong to use a plas­tic im­ple­ment, which will take thou­sands of years to de­cay, for a sin­gle use. We have seen the Blue Planet pro­grammes, show­ing how the seas are chok­ing un­der the on­slaught of plas­tic and chem­i­cal pol­lu­tion.

You would think that those who have taken up the task of look­ing after the health of peo­ple would show con­cern and lead­er­ship, in­stead of blithely help­ing to add to the eight mil­lion tons of plas­tic a year which end up in our seas.

Right-think­ing peo­ple ev­ery­where do their best but hos­pi­tals and med­i­cal providers seem to have no sense of the en­vi­ron­ment at all. While Croke Park sets a great ex­am­ple with its Green Am­bas­sador Pro­gramme and multi­na­tion­als con­struct en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly build­ings, hos­pi­tals and the HSE lag be­hind.

I have never seen a hos­pi­tal with a wind­mill, or even so­lar pan­els. I have seen hos­pi­tals where the lights are left on ev­ery night and all week­end in the of­fice sec­tion when there is no­body there. Many a hos­pi­tal ward has all the win­dows open and the ra­di­a­tors all on. Ev­ery­thing, down to the cur­tains, is dis­pos­able, but you never see a re­cy­cling bin. Some of this waste can be at­trib­ut­able to a need for steril­ity, but not all.

Big cars

I have of­ten looked into the yel­low bins in hos­pi­tals, where con­tam­i­nated waste is col­lected to be in­cin­er­ated at great ex­pense, and found them full of news­pa­pers and cof­fee cups de­posited by staff. There seems to be no ethos of “re­duce re­use re­cy­cle”. In hos­pi­tal can­teens, just about every­body uses dis­pos­able cups and plates, even when the re­us­able ones are avail­able.

Empty am­bu­lances sit out­side, their en­gines churn­ing diesel into the air. Ad­min­is­tra­tors drive be­tween hos­pi­tals in big cars with four empty seats and a boot, over­tak­ing couri­ers and taxis on the same jour­ney car­ry­ing lab­o­ra­tory sup­plies.

It is a great irony that when you work for the HSE you are ac­tu­ally paid more if you drive a big car as of­ten and as far as you can. Mi­lage is based on the size of your engine, so the big­ger the car, the more you get, and it is tax-free. You would imag­ine the fi­nan­cial re­wards should go to those with eco-friendly cars, and the man­agers would be re­warded for car-pool­ing, or tak­ing pub­lic trans­port or even hold­ing the meet­ings by Skype, if we are make any at­tempt at re­duc­ing our car­bon emis­sions.

A doc­tor was al­ways seen as the sci­en­tific ex­pert in a town or vil­lage. If the doc­tor ad­vised a course of ac­tion for them­selves and their fam­i­lies, it set a pow­er­ful ex­am­ple.

Hos­pi­tals in 2018 seem to have an en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy based on the mad sci­en­tists in old Bond movies. No­body ques­tions why all pa­tients need a pris­tine, ster­ile, plas­tic urine sam­ple which is of­ten com­pletely ir­rel­e­vant, and their de­tails en­tered in a huge pa­per chart in­stead of a com­puter.

In the GP’s of­fice, more dis­pos­able ma­te­ri­als are used in a morn­ing’s work than you would find un­der the

Hos­pi­tals in 2018 seem to have an en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy based on the mad sci­en­tists in old Bond movies

tree of a large fam­ily late on Christ­mas morn­ing. Surely, if doc­tors com­plained, the ac­tive in­gre­di­ents in in­halers could be sold as metal can­is­ters and the plas­tic hand­piece kept to take the re­fill, in­stead of chuck­ing the whole thing in the bin ev­ery month.

The HSE is great at get­ting in ex­perts. I would sug­gest that it and the Med­i­cal Coun­cil get to­gether and hire a few green ex­perts, who would do some­thing to stop the shock­ing waste in our health­care ser­vice, and who would mon­i­tor and ad­vise and see if all this stuff we use is nec­es­sary, and how we dis­pose of it.

For in­stance, the pri­mary care cen­tres have been a dread­ful fail­ure. There have been only a few built since their in­tro­duc­tion in 2001. If GPs were given tax breaks and grants to move into pas­sive, en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly, car­bon-neu­tral build­ings and were given elec­tric ve­hi­cles, they would be ex­tremely pop­u­lar, and set a pow­er­ful ex­am­ple.

This idea is no more fan­ci­ful than giv­ing huge sub­si­dies to turf-burn­ing power sta­tions.

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