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How UV-C disinfection tech can optimise healthcare sustainability

By UV Smart co-founder, Daan Hoek

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The healthcare sector is not immune to growing environmental challenges and, as with other industries, is facing immense pressure to reduce its footprint.

Internationally, the industry is estimated to account for 4.4 per cent of global CO2 emissions.

Recognising it’s own impact, the NHS previously laid out ambitious plans to become the ‘world’s first net zero national health service’ by 2040, and though it has taken strides to achieve that goal, it is still far from reaching the chequered green finish-line.  

The cleaning of medical devices can be especially resource-intensive and while disposable options minimise the risk of cross-contamination, save time, perform reliably and are always on hand, they are also uniquely damaging to the environment. 

UV-C disinfection has emerged as a more efficient and consistent alternative to traditional methods and has already been adopted by some hospitals in the UK and across Europe.

But could this burgeoning new technology also enable the NHS, as well as the wider sector, to deliver better care for people at a reduced cost to the planet?

What is UV-C Light?

UV-C light is a type of ultraviolet light which destroys the DNA or RNA of microorganisms – including bacteria, viruses and fungi – thus rendering them incapable of self-replicating or causing infection. 

Chemical disinfectants, while effective, come with potential drawbacks including potential toxicity and the need for correct handling.

There are also concerns over bacterial resistance to these disinfection methods. 

Alternatively, UV-C light doesn’t produce harmful by-products or residues.

UV Smart co-founder, Daan Hoek

It is also non-contact and residue-free, meaning it can be used to clean a range of surfaces and equipment in a variety of environments – including homes and hospitals – without the risk of chemical contamination.

During the height of the COVID pandemic, there was a boom in the number of people purchasing personal UV sanitising devices. 

A cure for throwaway culture

With more than 200 trusts and almost 1.6 million patient interactions every day, the NHS is a black hole for single-use products.

Speaking at a conference hosted by the Westminster Health Forum, senior nurse and head of clinical products management at Black Country Alliance, Claire Nash, said we must ‘move away from this ridiculous throwaway society, both at home and in the NHS’. 

Nash said: “There’s one planet, and 40 per cent of the elements that make everything are at serious threat, so we’ve got to stop throwing things in the bin, we’ve got to look at how we move back to reusables…let’s look again at how we deliver care and what things we can challenge.”

Reducing the reliance on single-use items is also a focus of the NHS’ net zero pledge and an effective, efficient and less-impactful disinfection solution – in this case, UV-C light – is key to the successful transition from disposable to reusable products. 

UV-C tech could also be better for the longevity of critical medical devices as it does not rely on harsh and potentially damaging chemicals – traditional methods may risk degrading equipment over time and compromising functionality. 

Fewer resources and repairs

An NHS Trust in the south of England is using a UV-C sterilisation chamber to disinfect small telescopes used by its Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) department. In its first year of use, it is estimated that the machine will save the department: 

  • 1,000 litres of chemicals
  • 5,000 litres of water
  • 1 million watts of energy
  • 6,000kg of carbon

It has also been reported that the chamber has ‘considerably’ shortened the decontamination process – which ‘increases capacity’ and ‘reduces waiting times for patients’ – and has resulted in a ‘drastic cut’ in the number of scopes needing to be repaired every month due to damage from chemicals, steam or transportation.

The NHS Trust plans to ‘review and potentially roll out’ the UV-C equipment to its other hospital sites. 

Lighting up the future of healthcare sustainability

The NHS has begun its journey to a net-zero future, but it’s clear that it still faces significant hurdles – such as phasing out the use of harmful and unnecessary single-use items. 

It may not be famous for its adaptability, and many have accused it of moving at glacial speeds, but the health service must be willing to explore and embrace evolving technologies – such as UV-C disinfection – if it is to meet its sustainability goals and provide the best care for its patients. 

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