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The latest report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published in August 2021, highlighted a “code red for humanity”, describing the need for urgent action on human impact on the environment. At the University of Huddersfield, we have been working on ‘greening’ our MPharm curriculum, aiming to deliver future pharmacists ready to play their part.
The NHS has taken a lead on the issue, with publication of the ‘Delivering a net-zero NHS’ strategy in October 2020. Within pharmacy, one of the International Pharmaceutical Federation’s development goals relates to sustainability in pharmacy. This aims to recognise, minimise and mitigate the environmental impact of both medicines themselves and pharmacy practices.
A Pharmacy Declares! movement has arisen over the past year, mirroring the UK-based Health Declares group, which recognises both the impact of healthcare on the environment and the impact of environmental changes on health.
Standards for the initial education and training of pharmacists (IETP) were revised by the General Pharmaceutical Council in January 2021, but do not explicitly address environmental sustainability of medicines use. Reading the standards through a climate change lens does however enable us to clearly apply them to this issue. Risk around medicines use includes risk to the planet as a whole, which impacts on human health. An explicit learning outcome within the IETP around environmental impact would however ensure its place in the education of future pharmacists.
At the University of Huddersfield, we have been raising awareness of students and staff of the environmental impact of medicines and pharmacy practices. This is not a new topic of conversation — we have recognised for at least the past ten years that greening the MPharm curriculum does not involve introducing significant new content. What students need to learn is already present within the curriculum, but it does require refocusing through an environmental lens.
Mitigating climate impact will need everyone to deliver change, and our future pharmacists have to be prepared to lead that change as part of their duty to the patient.
Lessons from Huddersfield:
- Work with colleagues: geographers, chemists, economists, computer scientists, nurses, medics and many others have a lot to offer and provide useful opportunities for interprofessional student working;
- Get students and patient representatives involved — the topic should be explicit, not hidden;
- Above all, use what you’ve already got: all topics currently within the MPharm are applicable to climate change — ethics, communication skills, person-centred care, patient choice, as well as the hard science.
Alison Astles, subject lead for pharmacy, University of Huddersfield (firstname.lastname@example.org)