Hospitals make cash from recycling X-rays

New technology enables NHS trusts to make millions from sale of recovered silver

Xrays can be recycled and the recovered silver will provide an income for hospitals

Hospitals in the UK could make millions of pounds to plough into frontline services by recycling the silver contained in X-rays.

Recycled UK has joined forces with Worcester-based Industrial Material Recycling (IMR) to create bespoke vision imaging software that will help hospital trusts to identify images that are no longer needed. These will then be recycled, and the money made from the sale of the silver they contain will be paid back to the organisation. This could mean an income in excess of £45,000 a year for every hospital in the country.

While the recycling of silver from traditional hard-copy X-rays is not a new concept, usually it is left to the hospital trust to decide which to cull and to locate them. Recycling companies then come in to pick them up and they take a percentage of the cash paid for the reclaimed silver.

Every trust that has trialled it has been delighted with the time savings, the speed of the process, and the peace of mind that files will be disposed of securely and an electronic record kept on a database. The fact they actually use it as a revenue stream is another major plus, especially when budgets for the NHS are being squeezed

In contrast, IMR and Recycled UK’s innovative technology is taken into the trust and, using vision imaging or barcoding, it scans X-rays, providing an electronic system that will tell the organisation exactly which films need to be destroyed or retained and until when. It also takes a digital image of the label, including the patient’s ID, so the trust can search the system to recover specific files.

Under current NHS guidelines, adult X-rays are usually kept by hospitals for at least seven years, while paediatric images are retained for 27 years. This means that every year an average-size trust will need to cull around 100,000 images.

The current market pays between £500 and £700 for every tonne of silver and hospitals will generate in excess of 20 tonnes every 12 months, potentially bringing in an income of at least £10,000. One trust that has already used the system made £45,000 in a single year.

Speaking to BBH this week, Paul Green, managing director of Recycle UK, said: “Currently, X-ray films take up valuable space and can be expensive to retrieve, even before disposal, with some NHS trusts paying monthly storage fees as well.

“What we are offering is the opportunity to take all of the hassle out of the situation. We’ll collect the files, filter them using the vision imaging software, securely dispose of them, and then provide a certificate of destruction and an electronic record for the organisation. Better still, there’s absolutely no cost and the trust gets a rebate from the silver we extract from the X-ray files.

“In the current NHS environment, there is no money and any investment, however small, has to be fully justified and signed off at board level. We wanted to get around this obstacle by taking away the need for upfront investment. This will make it much easier for trusts to adopt it.”

In the current NHS environment, there is no money and any investment, however small, has to be fully justified and signed off at board level

Also suitable for the dental and veterinary markets, the technology is already being used by several trusts in the UK and Ireland, but is expected to be rolled out more widely after its official unveiling at the HC2012 Health Informatics Congress earlier this month.

Hugh Whitcomb, managing director of IMR, said: “We’ve had some excellent early feedback. So far every trust that has trialled it has been delighted with the time savings, the speed of the process, and the peace of mind that files will be disposed of securely and an electronic record kept on a database. The fact they actually use it as a revenue stream is another major plus, especially when budgets for the NHS are being squeezed.”

The technology used to record the files can be adapted to suit the systems used by each trust, whether images are stored by patient name, patient ID number or by radiology number. The files can then be provided as an Excel spreadsheet which is fully searchable. It will also instantly flag up which files are no longer needed.

To keep up with the potential demand for the service, Recycled UK has invested in an automated baler and an extension to its Cannon Business Park factory in Coseley. This gives it the capacity to process 100 tonnes a week.

Green said: “All hospitals and trusts are different, but most did not introduce digital imaging technology until around 2010, so there are still millions of images that will need destroying and it is a win-win if the trusts can do this and make money at the same time.”

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