It was working through a record-breaking heatwave in France in 2003 that woke Tracy Lyons up to the climate emergency.
“People were dying in the tens of thousands. The heat was so intense that the roads melted and we couldn’t get ambulances out. We had to bring in a refrigerated morgue because people were dying in their homes.”
Many years later in the UK, Lyons waited for the profession to take action. “I was thinking somebody else is going to say something within pharmacy, because we’re health professionals and we want to help people. It just wasn’t forthcoming.”
So, during the COVID-19 pandemic, she took matters into her own hands and co-founded Pharmacy Declares, a group of ‘climate conscious pharmacy professionals’ who want to put pressure on leaders to take the climate emergency seriously. Since March 2021, the organisation has kick-started a conversation about sustainability in pharmacy and, within the space of a couple of years, has effected real change.
Their call to arms has led to several large pharmacy organisations declaring a climate emergency and agreeing to divest from fossil fuel investments. By the end of 2022, the divestment pledges among pharmacy organisations, such as the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and Pharmacist Support, will total around £15m, and other large organisations are set to follow suit in the next year or two.
“We are professionally obligated to speak up when things go wrong and to provide the best care we can for our patients, so that is my driver,” Lyons says.
Her activism has opened up doors at the top of the health service. In March 2022, Lyons was invited to sit on the NHS England Medicines Sustainability Board, which was put together to coordinate support action towards the NHS net zero carbon target. She has also spoken at numerous events over the past couple of years, including the Clinical Pharmacy Congress in 2022, where she was personally offered support by leaders, such as Keith Ridge, former chief pharmaceutical officer for England.
“It felt like our network grew exponentially from that event. The message is building quite quickly that climate change has everything to do with healthcare,” she says.
In her own trust, Lyons has worked to engage senior leaders and explain why climate change is such an important issue, even though everyone is under pressure and short-staffed. They have set up green networks within the hospital and she is particularly proud of a project related to waste management.
“Not all climate action is related to carbon emissions, we also have to think about the environmental impacts of pharmaceuticals. We know that every single waterway in the UK is polluted with pharmaceuticals. So, one thing I did was develop a flowchart of information, a poster of how to handle pharmaceutical waste.”
The team rolled it out across one site in the trust as a pilot and found that appropriate pharmaceutical waste management went up by half a tonne per month. “We need to do everything we can to bring down that that level of harm from healthcare,” she says.
Lyons adds that there are pockets of brilliance everywhere, and that part of the Pharmacy Declares ethos is to share that information so that we can help each other to implement change.
Doing that work means she has to spend a couple of hours each evening working for Pharmacy Declares, and she is thankful her family are very supportive: “I don’t want to get 20 years down the line and find that my children are under threat because I took a night off and was a bit tired. I think once you get an understanding of the need for climate action, there’s always more to do.”
“An impressive impact on the way pharmacy has responded to the climate crisis”
“A massive amount of future potential to do much more as this rises up the agenda”
Meet the rest of The Pharmaceutical Journal’s Women to Watch 2022 here