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World first for Caithness General Hospital after pioneering work


By Gordon Calder


Caithness General Hospital received the Alliance of Water Stewardship standard for work it carried out to reduce the impact of pharmaceuticals on the environment.
Caithness General Hospital received the Alliance of Water Stewardship standard for work it carried out to reduce the impact of pharmaceuticals on the environment.

Pioneering work undertaken at Caithness General Hospital has resulted in it becoming the first in the world to gain a prestigious international award.

The hospital in Wick received the Alliance of Water Stewardship (AWS) standard for work it carried out to reduce the impact of pharmaceuticals on the environment.

NHS Highland’s environmental and sustainability manager, John Burnside, said: "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 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."

AWS chief executive officer Adrian Sym said: "NHS Highland is at the forefront of a growing movement to tackle the impact 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 Caithness General is the first hospital in the world to achieve AWS certification in recognition of this work. 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 worked in partnership with the Aurora Sustainability Group throughout the project.

Iain Findlay from Aurora said: "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 NHS Highland and the other stakeholders in this work, and encourage other organisations across Scotland to draw inspiration from this ground-breaking achievement."

It is thought that between 30 and 90 per cent of all medicines taken orally can be excreted into the wastewater system as an active substance in urine. In the UK, around £300 million worth of dispensed medicines go unused and are discarded, often down the toilet.

The project involved carrying out 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.

The health board worked with a number of agencies – collectively known as the Green Breakthrough Partnership – which included the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Water, Highland and Islands Enterprise and the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Environmental Research Institute (ERI) in Thurso.

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 as there is a good spread of water uses – agriculture, distilling, food production and fishing – in the system.

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

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