Kerry Briggs Head of Medical

Eakin and sustainability

The health and medical sector are key in benefiting the lives of people globally. However, the processes and resources used in this space can often add to the pressure on the environment. Recently, innovation-led medical businesses have set themselves out to reduce their impact - through carbon emission cuts and re-design of their products - one of these being Eakin.

There’s no denying that sustainability in healthcare is a fascinating but challenging topic and the sustainability agenda is only going to grow with recent ambitious commitments being driven by the NHS. We speak to Sue Watson, Director of Innovation at Eakin about  Eakin’s work in this space and why sustainability in the medical sector is vital.

green block with graphics and headshot of Sue Watson

Sue leads the group’s Innovation Team to deliver early stage, outcome-driven R&D projects and the identification of strategic diversification opportunities for Eakin Group companies.

Eakin are a people focused healthcare business who focus on medical device manufacturing of high-quality skin protection and ancillary products for use in ostomy and wound care.

What role does an NHS supplier like  Eakin play in the National Health Services journey towards carbon neutrality? 

The NHS has a clear sustainability call to action, stating it is both part of the problem and the solution, with the aim of being net carbon zero by 2040.  We have observed different activity at the individual Trust level, some are clearly more advanced in their response and commitment to this, with waste and sustainability managers in place. As a supplier to the NHS we have to be proactive and an enabler to support achieving this aim.

Whilst much of the initial NHS  activity will focus on the easy fixes, there is increasing pressure to reduce single use medical devices.  Across the  Eakin  Healthcare Group we supply single use items to the Surgical, Ostomy and Respiratory fields, therefore is it our responsibility to ensure we seek to minimise the environmental impact of these products whilst maintaining safety, quality and functionality, the balance has to be right. Whilst the headline healthcare focus currently appears to be in the acute care setting, this will filter down and across all areas of the health and social care system, all of which we are active in. Different stakeholders bring different influences, in our Surgical and Respiratory businesses the emphasis is very much on the clinical, however in ostomy there is the more patient / consumer consideration, with ostomates becoming increasingly aware and concerned about the impact managing their stoma has on the environment and product disposal into landfill. There is growing expectation and it will influence the ostomate in future product choice.

What are some of the key challenges or barriers you face when pursuing solutions with less environmental impact?

As sustainability and environmental criteria become a higher priority in purchasing and framework scorecards we must ensure we aren’t left behind, going on the NHS journey and involvement in working groups will be important. More than anything we want to do this as transparently as possible, providing innovative solutions with clear environmental and sustainability credentials, rather than greenwashing. Of course this adds complexity not only to the development process, but also how to make existing products and processes more sustainable, consideration of materials, manufacturing, disposal, packaging, etc whilst meeting regulatory requirements.

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We are seeing that ‘sustainable’ product solutions need to be developed in conjunction with the business case and economic system in which they operate. What do you see as the opportunity for  Eakin when re-thinking from a systems-level?

One potentially significant hurdle we see is the acceptance to think differently about product costs, looking beyond the single price point to consider the cost/ benefit over the product lifecycle or product system. In many ways this could be the biggest barrier to adoption of more sustainable solutions which may cost more initially in a healthcare system which typically takes the short term view. It will be interesting to see how this develops as the various factors are overlaid and distilled into regulations, health economics, procurement processes and pricing structures.

The EHG see this agenda as a real opportunity to rethink approaches, develop system solutions, be potentially disruptive, ultimately to make great products, responsibly.

Join us at the same time next week as we share another interview with one of our clients, understanding their challenges and finding out more about our plans towards their sustainability goals. Follow us on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter and sign up to our newsletter here to find out more.

KD: Delivering sustainable futures; Designing A Better World.

Find out more?

Get in touch with our Head of Medical, Kerry Briggs.