Knowledge Base

Safe Healthcare Guidance from the Royal College of Nursing in the UK

Better waste management benefits health organisations

Supporting health care workers to classify waste appropriately can bring benefits to health organisations as well as the environment, according to new waste management guidance issued by the RCN. Reflecting legislative changes and current forms of best practice, the guidance calls for a greater focus on the waste hierarchy and for more distinction to be made between different waste types. The RCN is highlighting the need to risk assess all waste rather than simply labelling it infectious. It also argues for strengthening staff training on waste management and suggests that all organisations should consider appointing a dedicated waste manager. 

Need to distinguish between different waste types

Rose Gallagher, the RCN’s nursing adviser for infection control, said: “Safe management of health care waste is the responsibility of all staff in health settings. This guidance is designed to support health care workers, and particularly nursing staff, in managing the waste generated through their roles.   “There is evidence to suggest that a large quantity of health care waste is classified as infectious when it doesn’t actually present a risk of infection. It should instead be classed as offensive waste, meaning it is non-hazardous. This improvement in classification could lead to cost savings and a reduction in carbon emissions.   “All health care organisations should use this new guidance and provide adequate support to their staff in dealing with waste management issues.”

The guide was developed with RCN members and waste management experts from across the UK. It was co-authored by WSP, the professional consultancy which also helped produce the Department of Health’s revised guidance on the safe management of health care waste.

To view the guidance visit:

Royal College of Nurses in UK Publishes Report based on Freedom of Information on HCW

Nurses make up approximately 70 per cent of the health care workforce in the United Kingdom and are therefore the largest producers of clinical waste. They are both the purchasers and users of consumables. Nurses are responsible for the management of waste as producers and participants in waste disposal procedures. This is reinforced by the International Council of Nurses (ICN) which highlights that ‘in order to fulfil their role and take on their responsibilities, nurses must understand the hazardous consequences of improper waste handling, the ‘cradle to grave’ waste cycle and methods that mitigate the negative impact of waste on the environment’ (ICN 2009). The Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) Frontline First campaign, launched in 2010, serves to highlight where waste occurs within health care systems and how innovations can contribute to efficiency and cost savings at local and national level.  RCN members contacted the Frontline First campaign to raise concerns over local segregation of waste, in particular, inappropriate and overuse of the infectious waste stream resulting in unnecessary financial costs to NHS organisations. A Freedom of Information (FOI) survey was developed to provide a snapshot of waste segregation of three main waste streams for bagged waste (municipal, offensive and infectious waste) and comparative costs for the period 2008-09 and 2009-10. These streams were selected as a starting point to raise awareness and influence changes in practice that could result in environmental benefits and net savings for the NHS 

To view the report visit: 

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