Podcast – How I’m helping pharmacy become greener
Tracy Lyons, a medicines optimisation pharmacist and pharmacy sustainability lead at University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust, reveals how she has combined pharmacy with her passion for environmental care in the latest episode of the A Coffee With… podcast series
“I've always been an environmentalist,” she tells C+D’s reporter Emily Stearn in the podcast (listen below).
Ms Lyons’ hospital pharmacy career has seen her take on roles including lead pharmacist in the infectious management team at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and becoming a medicines optimisation pharmacist in Dorset.
But for a long time, she has felt “quite frustrated” in pharmacy, she confesses.
“I love looking after patients, but actually there’s a part of me that wants to be out working in the fields or the forest, or more recently, picketing for environmental leadership and action,” she adds.
The healthcare sector is a key polluter
While it is already widely known that climate change and other environmental impacts contribute to acute and longer-term adverse impacts on human health, what is lesser understood is that the healthcare sector itself is a key polluter.
“We know that our use of medicines has an impact on the environment around us and that it affects people’s health because we know that most illness is driven by the environment. It can actually induce ill health or bring on good health,” Ms Lyons says.
“That will affect the number of people seeking treatment and the way that the NHS is able to look after everyone.”
Indeed, data published last year by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) revealed that medicines account for about 25% of carbon emissions within the NHS. But change is underway.
In 2020, NHS England launched its Greener NHS programme - which aims to reduce the health service’s impact on public health and the environment – alongside a pledge to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2045.
Last year was a bumper year for Ms Lyons. In May 2021, she was appointed the UK Clinical Pharmacy Association’s (UKCPA) environmental and sustainability advisor, to help ensure the organisation upholds its commitments to continually improve the ways it is helping to combat the environmental crisis.
“Over the last year or so, we’ve all been side-tracked by the pandemic, obviously, [and] quite rightly so. But we’ve been talking about what we can do going forward,” she explains.
“We want to incorporate sustainability into all of the different areas that the UKCPA works in,” she adds. Her aim is to incorporate sustainability policy into all areas of education, “so that it’s not just a siloed area of interest”.
But that’s not all. In February 2021, Ms Lyons co-founded Pharmacy Declares, a group of climate-conscious pharmacy professionals calling for planetary health leadership and action.
The response has been “just overwhelming” and “one of the most life-affirming experiences ever”, she tells C+D.
She feels fortunate to have found a group of like-minded people who, like her, pursue the noble cause of wanting to “save life on Earth”.
When Pharmacy Declares was established, it was key that professional bodies "showed leadership with regards to climate action” and followed suit to declare a climate emergency, she says.
But what can we do to help the sector become more sustainable? For Ms Lyons, “there are other ways that medications can harm the environment,” she says, but the healthcare sector is currently focused on its carbon footprint and how to reduce that.
There are already “fantastic resources” that help professionals offer greener healthcare, for instance when it comes to “greener inhalers or lower carbon footprint inhalers”, Ms Lyons says.
“But I have to say, you have to make sure that this is all patient centred and the patients are able to use the inhaler, because the greenest inhaler is the one that keeps the patient well and out of hospital,” she argues.
Listen to the podcast to find out more about:
- The other drugs and devices that contribute most to harming the environment and what can we do about it
- Her plans to incorporate sustainability into the undergraduate pharmacy curriculum
- How pharmacy as a sector can become more sustainable
- Her hopes for how the pharmacy sector will have changed in 10 years’ time
You can listen to the podcast above. Alternatively, follow C+D’s podcasts by searching “Chemist+Druggist podcast” on your preferred app or on Soundcloud