PhD opportunity: Social prescribing, pharmaceutical disposal and water quality

Becca is a co-supervisor on a NERC GW4+ DTP PhD Studentship opportunity now open for applications ‘Developing sustainable options for reducing the concentration of pharmaceuticals entering the environment’

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP) for entry in October 2021. The scheme is competitive and full funding may not be available for all applicants.

Lead supervisor: Prof Julie Barnett, University of Bath, Department of Psychology
Co-supervisors: Prof Barbara Kasprzyk-Hordern (Bath), Ruth Barden (Wessex Water) and Dr Rebecca Lovell (Exeter)

CASE Partner: Wessex Water
Collaborative Partner: Natural England TBC


This PhD opportunity will explore relationships between environmental variables and human and environmental health. Globally, there is growing concern about the health of the natural environment. One aspect of this is the use of pharmaceuticals and the impact they may have on the natural environment. The number of pharmaceuticals prescribed in England increased from 852 million in 2008 to more than 1.1 billion in 2018. Pharmaceuticals are ingested and excreted into the environment through sewerage systems and are thus one of the key pathways of pharmaceuticals into the aquatic environment. A second pathway sees unused or expired pharmaceutical disposed in general waste and down toilets and sinks. Both pathways have been demonstrated to lead to deleterious effects on wildlife and ecosystems.

How can this be addressed? Rather than simply focusing on water treatment the ongoing research partnership of Wessex Water and the University of Bath are exploring innovative methods of pathway control. Specifically, to conduct research into sustainable options for reducing the concentration of pharmaceuticals entering the environment using a control at source approach. This uses two main approaches. First the use of social prescribing to avoid or divert patients away from medical prescriptions for a range of non-communicable diseases and second to reduce the amount of medicines that are incorrectly disposed of into sewerage systems.

This approach was tested in a pilot project and the possibility for it to reduce pharmaceutical inputs into wastewater was subsequently recognised by the Environment Agency as having potential implications for the wider water industry in the UK.

This PhD thus provides a unique opportunity to develop a research project at the intersection of water chemistry and social science with the potential to impact regulatory practice.

The successful candidate will be able to undertake a placement at CASE Partner, Wessex Water, which will provide the opportunity to engage with water sampling collection processes and to develop an understanding of the regulatory requirements that underlie the importance of the project.


Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree (or equivalent) in field of a social science. Particular consideration will be given to candidates who show evidence of achievement and/or engagement in natural as well as social sciences.The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the Universities of Bath, Bristol and Exeter and Cardiff University plus five prestigious Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad multi-disciplinary training, designed to produce tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science.


Enquiries relating to the project should be directed to Prof Julie Barnett,

Enquiries relating to the application process should be directed to

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