The world’s first ‘net zero emissions’ operation has taken place in the UK, paving the way for more sustainable practices in healthcare.
Doctors at Solihull Hospital in the West Midlands performed a five-hour operation to treat bowel cancer that was completely carbon neutral.
Although the health of patients is, of course, the priority, hospitals have a surprisingly large carbon footprint. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) accounts for around 6% of the country’s total CO2 emissions.
The operation of the month of April is all the more significant. Consultant colorectal surgeon Aneel Bhangu believes that the NHS, as a large emitter, will have an impact on people’s health in the medium and long term.
“Nous ne le voyons peut-être pas directly dans un bloc opératoire, mais je thought que nous avons une responsabilité envers nos patients, et leurs familles, leurs enfants et leurs petits-enfants, pour nous assurer que nous plans leur avenir et un avenir sain for them.”
How to do a “clean” surgical operation?
Emissions related to the operation itself were reduced by 80%, the rest being offset by the fact that the two surgeons cycled and ran to work, neutralizing the emissions that their normal behavior would have produced.
It was also necessary to plant three trees within the hospital compound to offset its carbon footprint.
This operation required a number of changes, from using reusable gowns to changing the way anesthesia is administered.
Pain relief has also been redesigned. Instead of using conventional gas, a liquid was injected into the patient’s veins to put him to sleep.
Dr. Catriona Frankling, anesthetist, explains: “One of the ways to keep a patient asleep is to use anesthetic gases, and these are greenhouse gases and when we use them, they are inhaled by the patient, exhaled and released into the atmosphere where they can cause global warming..”
It’s not what we’re used to seeing, either in real life or on TV, but the intravenous method isn’t unusual on the NHS, and it’s a change that many teams’ surgical procedures could do safely.
Power consumption is another big area where the team has looked to eliminate emissions. He checked all the electrical appliances, from the air conditioning to the lights, and concluded that it was not necessary to leave them on all night like now.
The adoption of energy efficient options, such as LED lighting, has also helped.
Can medicine reduce its impact on the environment?
People who work or receive care in the NHS will not be surprised to find that recycling is another area where doctors have found room for improvement.
Mountains of plastic waste are being generated in healthcare facilities every day, a situation that has only worsened during the Covid pandemic, with all the extra hygiene measures this has entailed.
A to study conducted by NHS Providers in 2019 revealed that 133,000 tonnes of plastic were used per year, 95% of which is wasted.
Turning off the lights and going plastic may seem like a small change in our own lives, but for a massive organization like the NHS, these changes are actually real steps forward in the ecological transition.
These are small solutions that are easy to implement and that, in any case, will not replace the vital treatments that nurses and doctors provide on a daily basis, sometimes particularly energy intensive. A single year of kidney dialysis, for example, is equivalent to seven return flights between London and New York.
Surgery is responsible for a quarter of the emissions from a typical NHS facility. So the changes being tested by Dr. Bhangu’s team have enormous potential to make medicine greener.
Article translated from English