July 22, 2024

Health Minds

Nourishing Minds, Elevating Health

New Lab Tackles Healthcare Sustainability Challenge

3 min read
Jane Gunn Carbon Lab
Faculty of Medicine Dentistry and Health Sciences, Professor Jane Gunn at the opening of the University of Melbourne-led Healthcare Carbon Lab, at Western Health.

A new virtual laboratory, which will gather insights into the healthcare industry’s environmental footprint to accelerate sustainable solutions, was launched today.

The University of Melbourne-led Healthcare Carbon Lab, at Western Health, will measure the environmental impacts and costs of common single-use items and medical equipment compared to reusable alternatives.

Project lead and Associate Dean of Healthcare Sustainability in the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, Associate Professor Forbes McGain, said the lab will track and calculate the energy for the creation, use and disposal of medical equipment used in hospitals every day.

Associate Professor McGain, who is also an intensive care doctor at Western Health, said the lab will accelerate the long history of collaborating with University of Melbourne engineers to research and improve the efficiency of hospital energy use.

“It is well-documented Australia’s healthcare system contributes 7% of Australia’s carbon emissions, but what we need is more of the data to be able to understand how we can make better, more sustainable choices while keeping patient care front of mind,” Associate Professor McGain said.

“As an example, just one load of a hospital steam steriliser uses as much energy as a day’s total energy use for a four-person Victorian household. And now consider that each steriliser is on all day.

“There is growing impetus for change, and the Healthcare Carbon Lab will help inform healthcare sustainability as we tackle the broader problem of reducing waste and carbon emissions from our hospital system.”

Sunbury MP Josh Bull, CEO of Western Health Professor Russell Harrison and Professor Jane Gunn AO, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, were at the launch.

Professor Gunn said the lab showed how Melbourne’s health precincts reflect centres of best practice, impact and collaboration.

“The University values its collaborations with hospital and industry partners which allow us to accelerate the translation of research into much-needed sustainable solutions,” Professor Gunn said.

“This multi-disciplinary team of healthcare workers and researchers are addressing the problems of healthcare waste and carbon emissions.”

Professor Harrison said single-use equipment has become the standard practice in many countries globally.

“This leads to excessive waste, both financially and environmentally, and contributes to high carbon healthcare,” he said.

“We’ve shown that it is possible to implement sustainable solutions while continuing to deliver quality patient care and comfort for healthcare workers.

“This is a truly exciting opportunity to look at how we can be more sustainable in the healthcare sector.”

One of the projects led by Associate Professor McGain was the implementation of reusable medical gowns, which have been widely available to frontline staff across Western Health since 2022.

“We’ve found that in terms of infection-control there is no difference and a somewhat better comfort outcome for reusable polyester gowns,” he said.

“We’ve reduced waste going to landfill and also carbon from manufacturing costs of disposable gowns.”

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