Pharmacist’s fantastic plastic-cutting project

Monday June 24, 2019

An improvement project led by pharmacy technician Sam Coombes will stop the trust using nearly 70,000 single-use plastic bags a year.

Sam’s vision for “a green sustainable pharmacy” was showcased at the 2019 Clinical Pharmacy Congress in London (7-8 June), where colleagues from around the country commended his improvement project.

Having the opportunity to take on this project has been very exciting and empowering

 “My poster presentation was really well received,” said Sam, “and I was taken aback by the number of pharmacists saying what a good project it was. Many asked me for further information so they too could go ahead and replicate this work, which I was really happy about.”

Research has shown the NHS is responsible for one in every 100 tonnes of landfill rubbish. And Sam, who works in the High Cost Drugs Team in Worthing, discovered our Pharmacy uses more than half a million items of single-use plastic every three years.

Spurred on by the disastrous effect plastic has on our ecology, Sam decided he could make difference and so, with the support of his managers, he set about tackling the problem.

First he gathered the data: Every year Pharmacy dispenses 14,000 grey plastic bags; 26,000 take-home medication bags; 24,000 inpatient bed-side bags; and 4,000 fridge bags!

Then, using the Patient First Kaizen approach, he looked at each of these to identify new and more environmentally friendly, but cost-effective solutions.

For example, throw-away fridge bags are being replaced with re-usable canvas bags with an antimicrobial coating; bed-side bags will no longer be necessary once Perspex medication lockers are frosted; and reusable cardboard boxes are replacing grey transport bags.

Sam, who has not received any formal Lean training, said: “Having the opportunity to take on this project has been very exciting and empowering, and I am really happy to be able make substantial improvements towards a greener, more sustainable pharmacy.”

An initial investment of £6,628 has paid for new alternatives to disposable plastic, but annual savings of nearly £2,800 will offset this in less than three years.

Continuous improvement director (interim), Dr Adrian Richardson, said: “Our Pharmacy teams have embraced Patient First from the beginning and it is fantastic to see colleagues who have received Lean problem-solving training share their learning with other team members, like Sam, so they too can complete their own improvement projects.

“The Kaizen team is always happy to provide guidance and support, but our ultimate ambition is to train an army of problem-solvers who can drive continuous improvement in their own departments and so it’s great to see Pharmacy leading by example in this way.”

Sam was joined at the Clinical Pharmacy Congress by interim head of pharmacy Helena Bird and colleagues Shani Corb and Adam Radford.

Helena, said: “It was fantastic for many of our pharmacy team to have the opportunity to showcase our work at such a prestigious national pharmacy forum.”

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