shutterstock_254159317Alexandra Hammond, associate director at Essentia, explains how lots of small changes can make a big difference.

Implementing small but significant changes within dental schools could result in notable improvements to sustainability performance within NHS trusts. With trusts being asked to reduce the cost of service delivery in a way that benefits the environment and local community, incremental changes to everyday processes can add up.

This has happened recently at the Dental Institute at Guy’s Hospital, the largest dental school in Europe which trains 20% of all dentists qualifying in England.

Here, medics, researchers, teachers, undergraduate and postgraduate students focus on understanding disease, enhancing health and restoring function. Understandably, the resources needed are substantial.

The trust believes that individuals and teams working within departments know how they operate far better than centralised sustainability and management teams and, with support, are able to find efficiencies and influence behaviour from within the team.

Sustainability targets

Elisabeth Dukes, registered dental nurse, was inspired to take action in helping the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Trust achieve its sustainability targets by looking at ways to improve daily tasks to help reduce costs.

She heads up the dental link nurse team, an extension of an existing sustainability champions network known as local environmental representatives. The group includes nurses, lab technicians, students, teachers and managers and is supported by the trust sustainability team. The team is empowered to find solutions to sustainability-related issues in the workplace.

The team’s first action was a simple exercise of changing the labels on the bins to make it easier to put the right waste in the right bin. This had positive results and so the team looked for other initiatives that might be right under their noses.

After a brainstorming session, the team identified possible savings to be made around the usage of minor oral surgery kits. The department uses about 40/50 of these kits a day. Elements of the kit are disposable and most are sent away to be sterilised.

Minor oral surgery kits

The disposable element was the weak link. It cost money to purchase and dispose of those elements. The team’s idea was to replace the gallipot, a small disposable pot used to hold saline solution, with a stainless steel version that could be sterilised along with the other elements of the minor oral surgery kits.

The change was an immediate success. The investment in buying the stainless steel gallipots was recouped in approximately two months. It also made the process for the nursing team easier as all the elements were kept together and they didn’t have to spend time disposing of a single element.

The project was underpinned by good communication within the team under strong leadership by Elisabeth. This meant that everyone felt that they were included in the decision-making process and could see the cost savings and efficiency gains. They were also supported throughout by the Essentia sustainability team, who gave them practical support and guidance, including a sustainability workshop to kick-start the process.

With this success under their belts, the team has been inspired to find other ways to improve processes and make savings. They are now looking at re-using dental materials in the trainee departments, so that there is less wastage. Students will be able to use the materials on the ‘phantom heads’ used for training, rather than using new stock and supplies.

The team is also spreading its network to get feedback and ideas from other people that access their services, whether that’s the housekeeping teams or the porters and patients.

Projects like this show that small changes have the potential to make a difference in lots of departments. The key is to get people motivated, have a strong leader, get support and keep up the momentum.