Make climate change a priority: national survey on sustainable care

A Citizens’ Panel for health and social care has found that eight out of 10 people in Scotland want the NHS to take responsibility for reducing its impact on climate change and the environment.

More than nine out of 10 surveyed said they would support returning unused medicines and empty asthma inhalers so they could be recycled or disposed of responsibly.

The report on the results of the thirteenth Citizens’ Panel, which was conducted by Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS), was published online on 28 May.

The survey gathered 589 responses and was conducted between November 2023 and February 2024.

Deputy National Clinical Director Dr John Harden, who heads the Sustainable Care workstream, said the findings were encouraging and showed that the people of Scotland cared about the environmental impact of healthcare:

“The Citizens’ Panel is an endorsement of the work already being done in sustainable care – for example the Green Theatres Programme, prescribing, the inhaler return scheme, medical gases, eco-directed formulary and clinical training.

“These are areas of work that are starting to bear fruit and which will continue to expand.”

What did the survey show?

Respondents, who were from across Scotland including the islands, were asked an array of questions to ascertain their views on NHS responsibilities and priorities around environmental sustainability and the climate emergency.

The results showed:

  • 94% supported returning unused medicines or empty inhalers to the pharmacy for reuse or disposal
  • 86% supported the re-issue of medicines that have been returned by other patients because they were not used, so long as they were unopened and safety checked
  • 86% supported accepting the exact amount of medication that was prescribed to them without being given any extra
  • 76% supported choosing one medicine over another because it had less of an impact on the environment (with no negative effect on their treatment)
  • 68% supported using more environmentally friendly medicine, even if less convenient than regular medicine. This could mean adjusting the dosage/frequency but with no negative effect on treatment
  • 61% supported taking a more environmentally friendly medicine, even if the NHS has to pay more for the medicine (with no negative effect on your treatment)

This Citizens’ Panel survey was commissioned by the Sustainable Care workstream which is part of the NHSScotland Sustainability Action Programme. This workstream sits in the Scottish Government’s Office of the Chief Operating Officer.