Putting anaesthetic-generated emissions to bed

The issue

Across the NHS, anaesthetic gases are commonly used as a part of everyday surgeries. These gases alone, are responsible for over 2% of all NHS emissions.

Amongst anaesthetic gases, desflurane is one of the most common, but also one of the most harmful. It has 60 times the environmental impact of other less harmful greenhouse gases and using a bottle has the same global warming effect as burning 440 kg of coal.

The NHS Long Term Plan aims for a 51% reduction in the NHS carbon footprint by 2025, with 2% of this to come through “transforming anaesthetic practices” such as using alternatives to desflurane.

The solution

Recognising the impact climate change is having on the environment and the health of its people, University Hospitals Bristol Trust has stepped up activity.

In addition to committing to take actions against single-use plastics, recycling, waste disposal, staff vehicle emissions and more, the trust sought to address the impact of anaesthetic gases.

The trust have been encouraging the use of alternative surgical anaesthesia options to reduce the use of desflurane, such as switching to lower carbon alternative sevoflurane.

Staff at the trust have been supporting colleagues in using less harmful gases, with positive results.

Anaesthetists Mat Molyneux and John Hickman developed several  engagement tools to raise awareness and provide information. These included coloured prompt cards placed on anaesthetic machines with facts about the impact linked to everyday activities such as driving a car and QR codes on machines directing clinicians to website resources for more information.

To stimulate engagement and discussion, John and Mat created an interactive challenge for staff. Eight different prompt cards with short anagrams were developed which once solved revealed the statement ‘Consider the environmental and financial impact of volatile anaesthetics on future generations.’

The impact

In just two years, the staff at the trust have reduced use of carbon intensive desflurane significantly, saving the equivalent to 30,000kg CO2 per month.

Mat Molyneux, consultant anaesthetist at University Hospitals Bristol, said: “The monthly reduction when converted to carbon dioxide is equivalent to 166 cars off the road or 105,000 miles driven by an average passenger vehicle.”

On the trust’s wider sustainability plans, Sam Willitts, energy and sustainability manager, commented: “We’ve introduced a lot of initiatives to lead by example, but everyone has a part to play to help us achieve our sustainability plans. No action is too small. There are things we can all do whether at work or at home, from turning off computers or lights to looking at more sustainable ways of travelling such as using public transport or bicycles.”

Over to you!

The anaesthetists involved in the project are looking to take their learnings wider and are currently setting up a regional sustainability network which will unite all hospitals in the area with the common goal of reducing the impact anaesthetic practice has on the environment.

For more information about sustainability projects at University Hospitals Bristol Trust: www.uhbristol.nhs.uk/about-us/sustainable-development/

Contact: Thebiggreenscheme@uhbristol.nhs.uk