UK doctors have ‘ethical duty’ to prevent waste

Nobody would disagree with the sentiment that UK doctors have and ‘ethical duty’ to prevent waste. All that is missing is the reality of lean practice and waste minimisation.

“Doctors have an ethical duty to prevent waste in the NHS, argues a report by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges.

Its authors point to potential savings of nearly £2bn. Examples include better use of medication, tests, hospital beds and operating theatres.

The British Medical Association said doctors were ideally placed to identify savings, but patients must come first.

The health secretary said he was determined to tackle avoidable waste in healthcare.

The report is based on the premise that one doctor’s waste is another patient’s delay, and may even mean treatment is withheld.

The authors argue it is better to develop a culture of finding the best way to do something, and then do it right across the health service.

There are 16 examples of changes to clinical practice which have saved money and benefited patients.

They include medication reviews to prevent adverse drug reactions, which account for 6% of all hospital admissions. The report says eradicating this problem would save £466m.

It also suggests more than £200m could be saved by stopping unnecessary scans.

Other recommendations include:

  • Prescribing lower-cost statins, which could save £85m
  • Reducing unnecessary face-to-face contact between patients and healthcare professionals by using technology such as e-mail and Skype
  • Cutting the number of X-rays for lumbar spine or knee problems, which could save £221m
  • More frequent consultant ward visits to ensure patients can be discharged promptly

The report does not provide a definitive total of potential savings, but indicates what a change in culture – where doctors resolve to eradicate waste – could potentially deliver.


All well and good, and nobody would argue against what has been a particularly hot topic in America for the last 2 – 3 years. The UK report simply echoes the US situation.

And there is no reason whatsoever why this waste reduction should not extend to a reduction in material waste, and while we are at it an improvement in waste segregation at source and so on. But that is perhaps not quite so newsworthy.

What is particularly surprising about this report is the number of column inches it has gained in just a few days. BBC and other TV news services, radio, and national newspapers have all carried the report. But for those working hard to achieve some improvement in the far less ‘sexy’ healthcare waste reduction, source segregation, sharps and waste safety etc, support is so hard to find.

Perhaps we just don’t have the PR support of The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges?

Whatever the answer, this most recent publicity can do nothing but help overall. Quite how much remains to be seen.




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