Scotland becomes the first country to ban climate-harming anaesthetic

The Scottish government have declared their country will become the first in the world to boycott the anaesthetic desflurane because of the severe threat it poses to the environment.

Data from the NHS suggests desflurane, a volatile anaesthetic used to keep people unconscious during surgery, has a global warming potential 2,500 times greater than carbon dioxide.

woman wears green face mask

A statement from the Scottish government, said: ‘Removing it from use in hospital theatres across NHS Scotland saves emissions equivalent to powering 1,700 homes every year’.

More than 40 hospital trusts in England and a vast amount in Wales are currently cutting down on its usage.

NHS England will introduce a similar ban from 2024, which – like Scotland – prohibits its use for anything but exceptional circumstances. Banning it across NHS hospitals in England would cut harmful emissions equivalent to those caused by powering 11,000 homes every year, according to NHS analysis of desflurane use in 2020.

The work which exposed the gases harmful effects on the environment was led by clinicians who have moved away from using desflurane to clinically appropriate and safe alternatives that have less impact on the environment.

Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Humza Yousaf, said: ‘I am immensely proud that we have become the first nation in the UK to stop using environmentally harmful anaesthetics in our NHS.

‘Programmes like this are key to our transition to become a net-zero health service, whilst ensuring patient safety remains at the heart of ever clinical decision.’

Additionally, Kenneth Barker, Clinical Lead for the National Green Theatres Programme, said: ‘Theatres are high carbon and energy intensive areas that produce high volumes of waste, so reducing the environmental impact of theatres will make a positive difference toward achieving Scotland’s net zero targets.’

Barker adds NHS Scotland has set an ‘ambitious’ target be net-zero for anaesthetic gases by 2027.

Overall, research shows anaesthetic gasses make up around 2-5% of the NHS’s carbon footprint, and efforts are under way to tackle other medical gases like nitrous oxide – commonly known as ‘laughing gas’.

Photo by Artur Tumasjan


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