Walking aids re-use scheme in Surrey saves NHS money

05 July 2023 marks 75 years of the National Health Service. When it was founded in 1948, the NHS was the first universal health system to be available to all, free at the point of delivery. NHS touches all of our lives, treating over a million people in England each day.

Sustainability is the only business case

In summer 2022, the 15 Community Recycling Centres in Surrey became official collection points for walking aids, like crutches and walking frames. The walking aids returned by Surrey residents are put back into use in the South West London Elective Orthopedic Centre (SWLEOC) at Epsom and St Helier Hospital. This environmentally sustainable partnership, is now helping the NHS to save money and support more patients on their road to recovery.

Performing around 5,200 procedures each year, SWLEOC is the largest joint replacement centre in the UK and provides care for patients across South West London and Surrey. SWLEOC reached out to SUEZ to see if they had access to any mobility aids through their network of waste and recycling facilities. Without a demand for second-hand mobility aids, medical equipment brought to the recycling centres in Surrey was previously sent for metal recycling. Putting this equipment back into use instead saves resources and reduces emissions by reducing demand for new products which require raw materials, energy, and water to produce.

Re-use saving cash and carbon

Now, one year into the partnership with SWLEOC, SUEZ has donated over 401 walking frames and 1032 crutches to be put back into use in the NHS – a cost saving of over £30,000 if the equipment had been purchased new. We hope to see this model scaled up nationwide to help put this vital equipment back to use, reduce waste and support the NHS.

Working in partnership

Boudine Pearce, Professional Lead for Elective Orthopaedic and Musculoskeletal Services for South West London Elective Orthopaedic Centre said: “We are working very hard to ensure that patients receive the orthopaedic surgery they need as soon as possible, across not only South West London and Surrey Heartlands, but in other regions, too. We have a real need for physiotherapy walking aids and occupational therapy equipment, so are absolutely delighted to be working with SUEZ on this.”

“This recycling drive will not only put pre-used equipment to good use and benefit our patients and their recovery, but will help us in our sustainability efforts to reduce expenditure and the impact on the planet.”

Benefits of reusing walking aids

Walking aids such as walking sticks, frames, and crutches, can be safely refurbished and reused repeatedly.

As identified in the Delivering a net zero National Health Service report, reusing crutches, frames and walking sticks provide an excellent opportunity for carbon savings due to the high greenhouse gas intensity of aluminium manufacture. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, increasing the amount that are returned and reused can also help improve access for patients and save money. According to NHS, if just two out of every five walking aids were returned, the average hospital could save up to £46k per year. In addition, reusing a refurbished walking aid is on average 98% lower in carbon emissions than using a new walking aid.

We are happy to assist NHS with one of the local re-use schemes and see huge cost and carbon savings achieved already.