Highland research collaboration scoops national environmental innovation award

Scientists at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) have won a Scottish Knowledge Exchange award for their ground-breaking work with NHS Highland on improving the quality of hospital wastewater.

UHI’s Environmental Research Institute partnership with NHS Highland won the ‘Making an Environmental Difference’ category at the seventh Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards organised by Interface. The awards celebrate exceptional work achieved through partnerships between academics and businesses or third sector organisations. The collaboration also received the internationally recognised Alliance for Water Stewardship accreditation, the first time this has been awarded to a hospital.

The collaboration examined how NHS Highland could provide effective healthcare for members of the public while reducing the environmental impact of providing healthcare. Staff from NHS Highland and UHI worked together to investigate methods to lower pharmaceutical pollution in hospital wastewater while increasing water efficiency at Caithness General Hospital.

Professor Sharon Pfleger, Consultant in Pharmaceutical Public Health at NHS Highland, said: “Water is essential for good health and never more so than during a pandemic when we are urged to keep washing our hands. We are very lucky to have water at the end of the tap but two billion people across the world aren’t so lucky. So we all have a social responsibility to be good stewards of our water and ensure it is there for generations to come. It takes partnership working to really make a difference and we are delighted to be working with colleagues in UHI’s Environmental Research Institute and our wider partners in the One Health Breakthrough Partnership to maximise the NHS contribution.  We are proud to collect this award with them and are striving to do more in the years to come.”

The collaboration is supported by the Knowledge Exchange ‘WaterHub’. This aims to help address challenges in drinking water provision, wastewater treatment and resource management in rural and sparsely populated regions of Scotland, and in similar regions elsewhere in Europe and around the world.  It draws on expertise from university locations around the Highlands and Islands. The new UHI WaterHub Strategy was launched on World Water Day on 22 March.

WaterHub is chaired by Professor Stuart Gibb, Director of the Environmental Research Institute at UHI North Highland. Professor Gibb said, “Water is of central importance to the economy of Scotland. Resources are critical to key sectors including, agriculture, food and drink, tourism, energy and healthcare. This collaboration with NHS Highland and our One Health Breakthrough Partners has attracted national and international interest and we are thrilled to receive this award and the recognition it brings.”

The One Health Breakthrough Partnership, which also involves Scottish Water and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, were also ‘highly commended’ for their collaborative work on addressing pharmaceutical pollution at the British Medical Journal Healthcare Awards in December 2020.