Caithness General Hospital Pilot Study (2017-2018)

With the OHBP, NHS Highland developed a pilot study to assess water use and pharmaceuticals in wastewater from Caithness General Hospital (CGH), a rural hospital in Wick, Highlands. This work was carried out between NHS Highland, the Environmental Research Institute (ERI), and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

The CGH pilot study sought to improve the quality of the water discharged from CGH into the sewerage system and onwards into the environment, by assessing pharmaceutical loads in CGH discharge and the efficiency of water use within the hospital.

The ERI has access to state-of-the-art laboratory facilities, and specialises in environmental monitoring and data analysis, therefore a team from ERI lead the research. This included sampling at the hospital and receiving wastewater treatment plant, processing samples, analysing data, and dissemination results. ERI performed a “source-to-sink” water cycle study to investigate the water quality and pharmaceutical content of raw water source, hospital tap water, hospital discharge wastewater, and wastewater treatment plant influent and effluent. Results have been published in an international peer-reviewed journal (link).

ERI PhD students at the Castle Street laboratories, involved in processing the water and wastewater samples.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise, as the regional development agency, provided valuable connections with local businesses to progress this case study and to develop a network of stakeholders with shared water interests. Within NHS Highland, the estates teams enabled the sampling work, and the sustainability management team initiated the project and developed the water action plan based on the results.

The project was championed by individuals and groups in each organisation. For example, within NHS Highland by their Consultant in Pharmaceutical Public Health, Environmental and Sustainability Manager, and Head of Estates; at HIE through their Head of Low Carbon; and at the University of the Highlands and Islands through the ERI.  

Through this work, CGH become the first hospital in the world to be accredited by the Alliance for Water Stewardship and receive this benchmark for environmentally and socially responsible water management (verified by independent audit). You can read more about the award here.

Caithness General Hospital received the international Alliance for Water Stewardship award. Pictured above: representatives from NHS Highland and the Environmental Research Institute, with Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport Jean Freeman (third from right) and former North MSP Gail Ross (second from right). Photo credit: Gail Ross

This project presented an opportunity for the partners to explore smart resource use, integrated environmental management, and collaboration to help deliver beyond compliance, future-proof services, and identify opportunities for enterprise, innovation, and genuine sustainable growth.

As the CGH project was successful, the OHBP are looking to roll out this approach at hospitals across Scotland, as encouraged by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport Jeane Freeman. The OHBP is also working with AWS to make this accreditation more attainable for hospitals and healthcare agencies around the world, especially in low and middle income countries.