North East first region in country to embed sustainability in health education

The North East is the first region in the country to have a faculty dedicated to environmental sustainability in healthcare.

The Faculty of Sustainable Healthcare, which is run by Health Education England North East (HEE NE), developed from an idea by Dr Elaine Winkley, a consultant anaesthetist who is the clinical lead for sustainability at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

During her anaesthetic training, she realised that there had been no teaching on sustainability and how it applies to healthcare settings.

Elaine approached Professor Namita Kumar, the Postgraduate Dean at HEE NE, with the idea and was in turn asked to chair the new faculty, using her expertise developed during her scholarship with the Health Leadership Academy.

A first meeting took place in October 2020, bringing together primary and secondary care, dentists, and undergraduate representatives from both Newcastle and Sunderland universities.

Less than a year later, in September 2021, the launch event took place to introduce the faculty, with a mantra of ‘increasing awareness of sustainability and embedding good practice across the local area, helping organisations achieve climate impact reduction targets’.

The faculty is now hosting workshops to provide overviews of sustainability in healthcare, supported by the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, while next steps will include training its own faculty staff, hosting annual events for trainees to present work and expanding into other specialisms, such as dentistry and psychiatry.

Dr Winkley said: “I am incredibly proud to chair the Faculty of Sustainable Healthcare, as sustainability is very important to me, and I’m delighted with how much progress has been made in a relatively short space of time.

“As a trainee, I worked in hospitals across the North East and issues around sustainability reared their head on many occasions, but there was no training on it and there were seldom people who could explain why certain things were done in certain ways.

“Establishing a faculty to tackle these issues means that they will be embedded in learning for those starting out on their careers in healthcare and therefore should become a natural part of their working lives. As the first region in the country to set up a faculty like this, it’s great to be showing this sort of leadership and innovation.”

The faculty’s aims are to:

  • Improve awareness of the environmental impact of healthcare to all staff working within HEE NE (within both clinical and operational settings);
  • Develop an education package to outline best practice for sustainable healthcare – improving knowledge on carbon literacy and environmental impact of healthcare to all staff working across the region;
  • Develop a network of sustainability champions across HEE NE to share best practice and case study examples within the region;
  • Embed sustainable practice within HEE NE and become a region that leads in sustainable healthcare provision.

It is hoped that the training provided by the faculty will result in many more staff-led innovations that will make a practical difference in reducing the environmental impact of healthcare organisations.

For example, Dr Winkley was involved in a scheme to introduce reusable theatre hats at Northumbria Healthcare, while earlier this year, the Trust also installed a machine for recycling facemasks and other items containing single-use plastics at its manufacturing hub.

Prof Kumar said: “The world’s eyes have just been on the COP26 climate change conference taking place in Glasgow and there is a concerted effort both by the NHS on a national level and through organisations in the region to become greener.

“This can only be done if good practice and understanding of sustainability is present at all levels of healthcare organisations and the best way to do this is to make sure it is covered as part of the comprehensive training to medics that we deliver here in the North East.”

The faculty has some workshops taking place later this month, which are open to all doctors, dentists, pharmacists and allied health professionals, who want to learn more about making healthcare more sustainable and reducing its impact on the environment and climate change.

For more information, visit