NHS should reuse more medical equipment, says health minister

NHS patients should be able to return equipment they no longer need, such as crutches, walking aids and wheelchairs, so they can be reused or donated to charity, the government has urged.

Unwanted medical equipment should be reused, urges government

England health minister, Steve Barclay, is calling on NHS staff to accept patients’ unwanted medical equipment and reuse it when it is safe to do so.

‘Patients should be able to return the countless pairs of perfectly good crutches sitting unused in the corner of living rooms across the country and know they will be put to good use helping others, either in the NHS or elsewhere through charity donations,’ he said.

Reducing waste and saving money

Some areas are already taking action to avoid waste. Earlier this year, Cardiff and Vale University Health Board called for local residents to return walking aids they no longer used, in a bid to save thousands of pounds.

Sue Rees, deputy head of physiotherapy services for Cardiff and Vale, told Frontline: ‘We’ve taken this issue seriously and have been working in partnership with a probation service rehabilitation company, Community Payback.

‘Ex-offenders now refurbish walking aids for the NHS, providing meaningful work and making best use of public resources.  

She added that the link-up with Community Payback, together with the health board’s in-house refurbishment scheme, has avoided “wasting” £30,000 on new equipment in 2018 alone.

‘The NHS has a responsibility to make the best use of public resources, reduce waste, improve our environmental footprint and create a leaner, greener NHS.

‘But this can only be done by working in partnership with the public and other public and third sector organisations to encourage equipment return. Working together in this way, whole communities can build a sustainable future together.’ 

Safety issues

Mrs Rees said the drive to encourage the return and reuse of medical equipment fitted well with the Welsh Government’s Towards Zero Waste strategy.

However, she added that she had concerns about the minister’s suggestion to return walking aids though charity donations, as this could potentially lead to unsafe equipment being reissued.

‘The issue of safety is very important. At Cardiff and Vale UHB, we encourage return of equipment to hospitals rather than charity shops for refurbishment.  

‘Our health board continues to retain liability for the walking aids it issues and therefore the aids must be subject to our agreed refurbishment procedures.’
A report Less waste more health: A health professionals guide to reducing waste, published earlier this year by the Royal College of Physicians, identified how NHS trusts could make sizable savings by developing and promoting schemes that allow the public to return medical equipment.

Mr Barclay made his comments about the issue in a statement published by the Department of Health and Social Care on 17 October.

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