Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Pharmacy’s Role in Climate Action

By RPS President Claire Anderson

As world leaders gather in Glasgow for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), I’m sure many of us are thinking about what more we can do in our own personal and professional lives to help combat climate change. While of course the outcomes of this week’s conference will be fundamental to the global effort that is required, each and every one of us has a part to play.

At the RPS, we’ve been busy over recent months considering what more the profession can do to become more sustainable. We’ve sought input from pharmacists across GB who are already leading the way in sustainable pharmacy practice, experts from outside the profession and held a virtual focus group that was open to all RPS members. This widespread engagement culminated last week with the release of a new series of policies that outline the steps needed to reduce the environmental impact of medicines.

Recommendations for Change

The policies focus on four key areas that have the potential reduce the environmental harm from medicines. They are:

  • Improving prescribing and medicines use
  • Tackling medicines waste
  • Preventing ill health
  • Infrastructure and ways of working

Under each theme, we make recommendations aimed at a number of bodies who can take action and instigate change. Going forward we will be taking these recommendations to national governments across GB, the health service, the GPhC, pharmacy schools and industry and offering to work with them to make the recommendations a reality.

What you can do

As well those full system recommendations, the policies also outline priorities for pharmacy teams. While we know that there are significant workload pressures on pharmacy teams right now, these are often small changes in the way we work - but changes that can make a real difference.

I know it can be difficult getting started. Therefore, as well as the priorities outlined in the policies, we’ve also published a number case studies that outline some incredible practice from across GB. They are wide ranging, spanning from work to reduce water pollution from medicines, to an innovative app to support sustainable prescription ordering and award-winning changes in workplace practices at the pharmacy department at the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch NHS Trust. Do take a look, I’m sure you’ll find plenty of inspiration!

Pharmacy Leadership

Reflecting on the content of the policies, one thing is clear, we as pharmacists must be leaders in climate action. With medicines accounting for 25% of carbon emissions within the NHS, we as the experts in medicines must stand up and take a lead to reduce their environmental harm.

Secondly, as pharmacists, we should recognise our role in society. We are trusted professionals and leaders within our communities. Our patients listen and are influenced by us. We must lead by example and use our social platform to help inform and support our patients to make the changes in their own lives.

A Global Approach

As we move forward with our work on sustainability, we’re determined to look beyond GB and to spread best practice internationally. We’re therefore committed to working closely with the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) to instigate positive changes in practice across the globe. As part of this commitment, I’m pleased to have been a signatory to a joint RPS-FIP letter to the national delegations at COP26 (link to news story).

Read more about RPS action on sustainability in healthcare

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