The Environmental Impact of Surgery
The NHS currently emits over 1/3 of the UK’s public sector emissions and produces 590,000 tonnes of waste. This makes it the largest public sector contributor to climate change in Europe, contributing equal municipal waste to the whole of Luxembourg.
Surgery is the most resource intensive aspect of healthcare, responsible for a large portion of these emissions. A study published by the Lancet estimates that theatres are between three and six times more energy intensive than equivalently sized other areas of the hospital due to their heating, ventilation, and air conditioning requirements. Furthermore, one operating theatre suite in a UK teaching hospital had a comparable annual carbon footprint to over 2,000 homes.
In recognition of the clear and present danger that the climate emergency poses, the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh has put together a working group of “Sustainability Champions” to devise practical solutions, helping the surgical profession to understand and reduce its environmental impact.
The Group comprises:
- Katie Hurst (Chair) - General Surgery SpR within Thames Valley, currently undertaking a DPhil with the University of Oxford. Past member of RCSEd trainees committee
- Professor Michael Griffin OBE – President of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.
- Nathan Stephens - Consultant Oesophagogastric Surgeon at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital and current Chair of the RCSEd Younger Fellows’ Committee.
- Jasmine Winter Beatty - Surgical Registrar in the North-West London deanery and Clinical Research Fellow at ICHNT, pursuing a PhD on the application of digital technologies and AI in surgery and the essential role of sustainability in surgical innovation.
- James Chu - ICAL medical student in urgent and emergency care at Treliske Emergency Department. Affiliate and sustainability champion of RCSEd.
- Haroon Rehman – Chair of the RCSEd’s Trainees Committee and a Specialty Registrar (ST8) in Trauma & Orthopaedic Surgery based at Wrightington Hospital
Starting the Conversation and Raising Awareness
The destruction of the only life system known to support human life poses significant dangers to our health with consequent added burdens for the NHS. Heat-related mortality in those over 65-years-old has increased by 53.7%, over the past 20 years.
Air Pollution is now the biggest killer worldwide causing >7m deaths/yr.
The NHS is the largest public sector contributor: its carbon footprint is 5% of whole of UK! Of the whole NHS footprint 5% is caused by volatile anaesthetic gases, 10% energy, 10% instruments & equipment.
Did you know the average carbon footprint of a UK operation is equivalent to driving 435 miles? That’s more than driving from London to the COP26 in Glasgow! Surgery is 3-6 times more energy intense than any other hospital department. Good news: you can enact change in your department to mitigate this!
Where to start: within surgery anaesthetic gases account for 42% of emissions; of the remaining carbon footprint, energy accounts for 58% and consumables for 32%. Here are some tips for QUICK ACTIONS that you can take in your department and at home!
What can you do? Find out about your trust's Green Plan. Ask if your Trust has declared a Climate emergency? Does your Trust have a Sustainability team, and can you get involved? Get the conversation started and don’t be afraid to implement small changes! Keep an eye on our page for more information and resources!
- Joint webinar with RCSEng: Sustainable Surgery and Climate Change. What Can and What Must We Do? | RCSEd
- Join us for the Green Surgery Conference 2021 on Thursday 4 November! Book here.
- Center for Sustainable Healthcare: Green Surgery Challenge
- “Greener Operations” James Lind Alliance Priority Setting Partnership
- Sustainable Operating Theatres
- A practical way to drive incremental change towards a more ethical and sustainable health system.