Reuse is the right medicine for the NHS

Written by: Daniel O'Connor | Published:
Reducing waste has a significant effect on collection costs and helps to meet landfill diversion

Cuts to NHS funding have been headline news for some time and, when frontline care is in the balance, making savings wherever possible takes priority.

The challenge is tough ­– the NHS has been charged with reducing spending by £22 billion by 2020.

Reducing waste has a significant effect on collection costs and helps to meet landfill diversion and carbon emission targets at the same time.

When you talk about NHS waste the first thing that comes to mind is hazardous waste, swiftly followed by catering waste and typical office paraphernalia like printing paper and inkjet cartridges.

In the past procurement and waste/facilities departments were very separate entities. The benefits of reuse may have been evident to those arranging for skips, but less so to those responsible for procurement.

However, in the current climate of rationalisation many departments are facing mergers or being decommissioned altogether. When this happens old departments find themselves having to deal with large quantities of unneeded equipment, while the new site or department suddenly needs kitting out.

Over the years we have helped dozens of NHS facilities to understand the social, environmental and (most crucially) financial benefits of reuse.

These days procurement is often the driving force behind reuse – demonstrating the power of a truly circular business where the environmental benefits line up with the financials.

Working together using Warp It NHS Trusts have been able to make substantial savings. We currently partner with 25% of the NHS and, between them our 63 members have saved an incredible £4.06 million and claimed £143,000 in assets from outside the NHS network.

They are partnering with institutions in their areas – such as universities, councils and voluntary sector organisations – and are swapping everything from furniture and stationery to clinical supplies and lab equipment. Some Trusts have even swapped unwanted vehicles.

So far this has been at the discretion of individual NHS Trusts, but with the recent inclusion of reuse in the annual NHS Estates Return Information Collection – also known as ERIC – this all changed.

The move to incorporate reuse reporting into ERIC will embed the reuse of furniture and equipment into future policies and practices. The report asks for both the weight of waste and the carbon avoided, and calls on Trusts to ensure that processes are in place to capture the data.

The simplest way to describe Warp It is as an Ebay platform for reuse. Organisations sign up to the system and encourage staff to register as members.

Once they have agreed to the terms and conditions – which protect the organisation from any case of misuse by the new user – they are free to start sharing unwanted items, or searching for things they need for their department. Items are photographed and listed, and Warp It works out all the tricky calculations to show metrics like carbon benefits.

Some organisations allocate staff to check items, while others let the system run itself. Our top 20 NHS customers invest £300 a month on the service and save an average of £4,842 per month in procurement and skip charges.

Since we started we have seen growing involvement from procurement teams. What started as a drive to promote reuse and save reusable items from landfill has metamorphosed into a key money-saving scheme for cash-strapped Trusts.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde topping the tables

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is the largest health board in the UK, overseeing 35 hospitals and a range of other healthcare services.

When the hospital system was restructured, with several hospital sites closing down and a new hospital coming online. Staff had to plan for a large volume of furniture and equipment that was perfectly useable but suddenly found itself without a home.

Surplus furniture was not a new concept, but the restructure involved co-ordination on a much greater scale. Previously the board had used its own internal cataloguing system that made an inventory of items but did not make them accessible to other users.

Signing up to Warp It gave it the opportunity to share resources and build networks across the organisation. So far the board has saved 131,953kg of waste from landfill or incineration. At the same time, less demand for waste skips and lower purchasing needs have totted up a total saving of £814,644.

Elaine Gray, purchasing lead at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, said that success can be attributed to the quality of items on offer.

She says: “Everything available to staff has been through our pre-check process, so staff can feel confident that anything they take through Warp It is able to be used. Our team clean, check, make sure that assets are fit for purpose, and that they’ve ticked the infection control box and the health and safety box.”

Over the two years since Warp It came online the board has put infrastructure in place to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

One member of staff is allocated to the checking process, while electricians are also on hand to PAT-test electrical equipment.

Although not every organisation will have the resources to manage this, the overall savings more than cover the outlay.

Gray says: “I think we’ve changed hearts and minds through using Warp It and being able to gain equipment that is fit for purpose.

"We started using Warp it in April 2017, and we’re now close to a £1 million in cost avoidance. Everyone in our health board is asked to look at the platform first before anything is approved.”

Publicising the scheme through the board’s information site, StaffNet, and the monthly Staff Newsletter has helped to build strong relationships, engage people across different departments and allow the network to grow.

Breaking the habit of buying new – and changing the assumption that new is better – has been the greatest barrier, and one that Gray has worked hard to overcome.

She explains: “I think that's just been talking to people and explaining to them that there's no need for us to buy new goods.

"If we can check and make sure that the items are fit for purpose then they should accept it. I think that's happened steadily over the last 18 to 24 months; we have changed a lot of people's opinions and been able to take reused equipment.”

Daniel O'Connor is founder of Warp It

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