Review of Sustainable Health Care

Healthcare service providers acrossAustralia need to dramatically scale up action in sustainability in response to climate events.  Internationally, the response to climate change is increasingly recognised as a healthcare priority.

This project provides background information to inform the development of a draft Sustainable Healthcare Module for public consultation.

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care’s (the Commission) role is to lead and coordinate national improvements in the safety and quality of healthcare. Working in partnership with the Australian Government and across the healthcare sector, the Commission engaged the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA) and BehaviourWorks Australia to conduct a review of existing policies and literature, to better understand the potential safety and quality implications and solutions facing health service organisations.

This is also an opportunity to better understand current action being taken across health service organisations and jurisdictions and the evidence base on both the risks facing these organisations and their opportunities to ensure sustainable health care.

The challenge:
To better understand the climate change challenges facing health service organisations and the associated extreme weather events and changing patterns of disease.
Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, Climate and Health Alliance

What did we do?

We conducted a systematic rapid review of research which identified 37 studies, comprising 9 systematic reviews, 7 narrative reviews and 21 primary studies.

The highest volume of evidence (15 out of 37 studies) focussed on life cycle assessment, waste and other audits and organisational readiness studies to support recommendations for sustainable healthcare interventions.

What did we find?

There is considerable scope for substantial carbon emissions and waste and energy reductions, with the UK National Health Service (considered a global leader in sustainable healthcare), leading the way.  The use of telehealth (especially since the Covid pandemic) is reported to have reduced operating room waste and reductions in carbon footprint by 12-67%.

There is also evidence of the potential impacts of efforts in energy reduction, food procurement and pharmaceutical practices such as extending shelf life and rational prescribing.

This positions the Australian health system well to understand what has worked elsewhere and to invest in evidence-based policies and practices that will deliver safe and high-quality models of care that are environmentally sustainable.

What’s next?

Environmentally sustainable healthcare initiatives have their greatest impact at scale, which was reported and underlined by the example of the UK’s National Health Service. With a significant proportion of Australian health services actively pursuing sustainable healthcare goals (such as the Global Green and Healthy Hospitals (GGHH) network), or having sustainability plans or strategies in place, there is a need for these isolated efforts to be connected and co-ordinated and for processes and metrics to be standardised.

Close to half of the surveyed healthcare services were unsure about the implications of sustainability activities on safety and quality of care.  This report should strengthen the Commission in it’s goal of establishing clear standards that can be evaluated at jurisdictional and national levels, to achieve a safe and high-quality, sustainable health system that is resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Read the report

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