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Caithness General Hospital secures a world first for pioneering environmental work

8th January 2020

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Photograph of Caithness General Hospital secures a world first for pioneering environmental work

Caithness General Hospital in Wick is the first hospital in the world to gain the prestigious Alliance of Water Stewardship standard.

Pioneering work in Wick has enabled the town's main hospital to be awarded international status for work undertaken to reduce the impact of pharmaceuticals on the environment.

NHS Highland has been involved in a major multi-agency project designed to reduce the pollution caused by medicines emanating from the hospital, and this award is recognition of an ongoing initiative designed to make the healthcare provided at the hospital "greener" by reducing its environmental impact.

NHS Highland's Environmental and Sustainability Manager John Burnside said: "This award is a clear indication of the board's desire to be at the forefront of environmental sustainability.

"This project has enabled Caithness General Hospital to lead the way in reducing the impact the medicines we prescribe can have on the environment. We have a strong economic and social responsibility to the communities we serve and it is vitally important we reduce our carbon footprint.

"We are delighted that Caithness General Hospital is the first hospital in the world, and the only site of any kind in the UK, to be recognised with the Alliance of Water Stewardship standard."

Chief Executive Officer of Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), Adrian Sym, said: "NHS Highland is at the forefront of a growing movement to tackle the impacts of pharmaceuticals on the environment and on public health, and has demonstrated global leadership by employing water stewardship as part of these efforts.

“We are delighted that Caithness General is the first hospital in the world to achieve AWS certification in recognition of this work. At AWS we are committed to taking the learning from this project to encourage other hospitals to follow NHS Highland's lead, confident in the belief that together we can make a valuable contribution to efforts to address the impacts of pharmaceuticals on aquatic ecosystems worldwide."

NHS Highland has worked in partnership with Aurora Sustainability Group throughout this project. Iain Findlay from Aurora said: “We are delighted to have played a part in helping NHS Highlands achieve this world-first in gaining the AWS Certification. It's clear that water stewardship will be a major issue in the coming years as climate change drives the need for a more systemic approach to how organisations operate. We congratulate NHSH and the other stakeholders in this work, and encourage other organisations across Scotland to draw inspiration from this groundbreaking achievement."

It is thought that that between 30 and 90 per cent of all medicines taken orally can be excreted into the waste water system as an active substance in urine. What's more, in the UK alone, around £300 million worth of dispenses medicines go unused and are ultimately discarded, often by people who flush them down the toilet.

Given that water is such a vital resource in the Highlands, in terms of everything from wildlife and food and drink to tourism and recreation, NHS Highland is keen to reduce the impact its work has through what is known as water stewardship.

And key to that has been the Caithness initiative, which has seen the health board working with a collaboration of agencies collectively known as the Green Breakthrough Partnership and including the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Water, Highland and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and the University of the Highlands and Islands' Environmental Research Institute (ERI) in Thurso.

The project has involved carrying out an in-depth analysis of changes in the quality of water from its source, Loch Calder, to Caithness General Hospital and onwards to the local wastewater treatment plant.

And it’s hoped that the processes used in the research, and what has been learned, can be applied to hospitals and other healthcare sites across the region.

Caithness General was chosen for the project because of the relatively straightforward water system from Loch Calder, the hospital’s proximity to the ERI’s base and the fact that there’s a good spread of water uses - agriculture, distilling, food production, fishing, etc. - in the system.

The project has also been listed as finalists in at the Edie Sustainability Leaders Awards 2020, which sees NHS Highland shortlisted alongside companies such as Coca-Cola and WWF UK.

See the Photo Gallery for Loch Calder water works opened in 2004.

 

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