Environmental impact of prescribing
Sharon Pfleger, Consultant in Pharmaceutical Public Health at NHS Highland

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society and Scottish Academy of Medical Royal Colleges co-hosted the NHS Education for Scotland annual virtual conference to discuss the environmental impact of prescribing.

One of the conclusions drawn from the conference on Thursday (April 28) stressed on environmentally sustainable prescribing should be embedded in undergraduate and postgraduate health care education.

Delegates at the session said they or their teams needed more education. They also needed more information and resources when prescribing to be able to consider environmental issues.

Sharon Pfleger, Consultant in Pharmaceutical Public Health at NHS Highland, told the session: “There’s a lot of work to be done to reduce carbon emissions. The NHS has identified the use of metered-dose inhalers as its second biggest cause of carbon emissions as the propellant gases have significant global warming potential.

“It’s important that prescribers check that these types of inhaler are appropriate for everyone who uses them, and that patients know how to use these inhalers correctly, so the medicine is not wasted. Switching to lower carbon inhalers may be a suitable option for some patients after a consultation with their prescriber.”

Furthermore, pharmaceutical pollution causes physiological, behavioral and reproductive changes in aquatic life, as well as accelerating antimicrobial resistance.

“Every time a patient takes a medicine, between 30-100 per cent will end up going down the toilet and into our wastewater systems, which cannot effectively remove them. Ultimately prescribing pollutes our rivers and oceans, so it’s important that all prescribing is necessary and proportionate.”

In polls during the session, 97 per cent of delegates said that sustainable prescribing should be embedded into education, and 100 per cent said health care leaders should do more to support environmentally sustainable prescribing and medicines use.

RPS and the Scottish Academy are currently finalizing a joint statement on reducing the environmental impact of prescribing which follows a round table the two organizations co-hosted to bring together all health professions in Scotland who prescribe.

Clare Morrison, director for Scotland at RPS, said: “It is vital that we take action on environmental sustainability, and we heard a clear message today that health professions need more education to be able to take action. I am delighted that RPS is working jointly with the Scottish Academy of Medical Royal Colleges to try to achieve change.”

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