Patient confidentiality & recycling

The NHS is going green, slightly, in small, slow steps, but it IS going green. Many items are reused when it is safe to do so, with expensive disposables side lined to reduce overall costs, in particular the cost of disposal.

Plastics recycling is an obvious cause, and a worthwhile cause at that. Plastics recycling might include various drinks containers but even empty drugs containers and those items traditionally managed as, or with, clinical wastes present more of a problem. What about the pharmaceutical residues that they contain? We on the Clinical Waste Discussion Forum have frequently defended the capture of many plastics that had been used with but no longer contain significant quantities of drugs residues but without good standards of source segregation how can we ensure that the likelihood of an additional filled contained does not find its way into the recyclables? That would be a two-edged sword since if it did, what would be the environmental impact as in general the vast majority of all of the drugs that have been given to patients, from those many empty bottles, are excreted via urine and enter the environment anyway?

Perhaps downstream plastics recovery is one way forward, at least for those plastics that rightly are managed as clinical wastes. But for other items such as sample pots, jugs and beakers, widely used on wards and in X-ray departments, and elsewhere, labelling these with a patient identification or addressograph label might be thought to breach patient confidentiality.

So too for the many millions of blood vials, most of which are still legible after ATT processing. So we know Mrs Smith has been to hospital and had blood taken, that Mr Jones was in X-Ray and given some contrast medium. We might know when too, as the label may additionally carry a date, but we do not know why.

A similar discussion among those nice people at Practicegreenhealth puts this firmly into context. So we know about when and what, but not why. Is that any different, if someone actually did want to know read patient identification details from used sample containers, from Nurse walking into the waiting area and calling by name for Ian Blenkharn, telling all present that he is there at the clinic?

For those troubled by issues of confidentiality and possible breaches from inadequate control over items of clinical wastes and from separately collected recyclables, this view should put everything into context and diffuse any unnecessary concerns.




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