Scotland is the first to ban environmentally harmful anesthetics

file photo of anesthesia specialists and operation

Scotland has become the first country in the world to stop its hospitals using the anesthetic desflurane because of the threat it poses to the environment.

NHS data suggests the gas, used to render people unconscious during operations, has a global warming potential 2,500 times greater than carbon dioxide.

Banning it in Scotland – from peak use in 2017 – would equal emissions to 1,700 households a year.

UK hospitals have already cut spending.

In recent years, more than 40 hospital trusts in England and a number of hospitals in Wales have stopped using it.

NHS England will introduce a similar ban from 2024, which – like Scotland – will ban its use for anything but exceptional circumstances.

According to the NHS analysis of desflurane use in 2020, a ban on NHS hospitals in England would reduce harmful emissions equivalent to those caused by powering 11,000 households each year.

Other countries, including many in Europe, are likely to take similar steps in the coming years.

Dr. Kenneth Barker, anesthesiologist and clinical leader of Scotland’s national green theater programme, said he was shocked to find that the anesthetic he had been using for more than a decade for many major and routine operations was so harmful to the environment.

“I realized in 2017 that the amount of desflurane we used in a typical day job as an anesthetist resulted in emissions equivalent to driving 670 miles that day,” he said.

“I have decided to stop immediately and many fellow anesthetists have joined.

“When you’re faced with something as obvious as this and the significance it has for the environment, I’m really glad we’ve gotten to this stage.”

Many hospitals have switched to safe and effective anesthetic gases with a lower warming potential, such as sevoflurane, which has a global warming potential 130 times that of carbon dioxide, or to alternative non-gaseous anesthetics and more efficient equipment.

Dr. Helgi Johannsson, vice-president of the Royal College of Anaesthetists, told the BBC: “More and more anesthetists in the UK have become aware of the sheer magnitude of the damage the gas can do to the environment and have chosen not to use it anymore. to use – and I’m proud of that.”

But he warns that this is just the beginning and only “a drop in the ocean of the NHS carbon footprint”.

He explained: “The NHS is a really carbon-intensive industry. We need to focus on all the other important things that can also make a difference, such as tackling old hospital buildings that are difficult to heat and reducing patient movements.”

In general, anesthetic gases make up around 2-5% of the NHS’s carbon footprint, and efforts are being made to tackle other medical gases such as nitrous oxide.

NHS England’s net zero strategy includes looking at more environmentally friendly heating and lighting systems, greener vehicles and examining the environmental impact of how medicines and equipment are supplied to the NHS.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *