North East to embed environmental sustainability in health education

The North East of England is now home to a specialist faculty dedicated to teaching clinicians about environmental sustainability in healthcare.

The Faculty of Sustainable Healthcare is run by Health Education England North East (HEE NE), and was developed from an idea by Dr Elaine Winkley.

Dr Winkley is a consultant anaesthetist and also the Clinical Lead for Sustainability at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. She realised, during her own training, that there was little or no teaching on sustainability in healthcare settings.

After approaching Professor Namita Kumar, the Postgraduate Dean at HEE NE, Dr Winkley was asked to chair the new faculty and helped arrange a meeting between representatives from primary and secondary care, dentistry, and undergraduate courses from the Newcastle and Sunderland universities.

The faculty launched in September 2021 with a message based around ‘increasing awareness of sustainability and embedding good practice across the local area, helping organisations achieve climate impact reduction targets’.

Its main aims are to improve awareness of the environmental impact of healthcare, develop an education package to outline best practice, create a network of sustainability champions across HEE NE, and to embed sustainable practice within the organisation and wider region.

Supported by the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, the faculty will train its own staff and host annual events for trainees to present work. Workshops will be open to all doctors, dentists, pharmacists and allied health professionals who want to learn about healthcare sustainability.

Dr Winkley said: “I am incredibly proud to chair the Faculty of Sustainable Healthcare, as sustainability is very important to me, and I’m delighted with how much progress has been made in a relatively short space of time.

“As a trainee, I worked in hospitals across the North East and issues around sustainability reared their head on many occasions, but there was no training on it and there were seldom people who could explain why certain things were done in certain ways.

“Establishing a faculty to tackle these issues means that they will be embedded in learning for those starting out on their careers in healthcare and therefore should become a natural part of their working lives. As the first region in the country to set up a faculty like this, it’s great to be showing this sort of leadership and innovation.”

It is hoped that the training provided will lead to more staff-led innovations, such as the scheme involving Dr Winkley which introduced reusable theatre hats at Northumbria Healthcare, or the trust’s installation of a machine for recycling face masks and single-use plastics.

To find out more, visit the faculty’s website.