A new report released by the Royal College of Surgeons and UK Health Alliance on Climate Change is tackling practical ways to reduce the carbon footprint of surgery. It’s no small feat: Health systems account for 4.4% of global emissions, compared to the aviation industry’s 2.5%.

With decarbonising set as a key focus in the NHS 10-point plan, the Green Surgery Report shares key initiatives and recommendations for industry, healthcare providers, and government.

The current medical systems are ‘part of the problem’…

The report includes some confronting statistics about the carbon impact of healthcare. If health systems were a country, they would be the fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and most health systems have rising emissions. It further concludes that the carbon footprint of surgical care in the UK in 2019 is 5.7 million tonnes of CO2.

When pinpointed, products (particularly those that are single use), energy, consumption, and anaesthetic gases were cited as the three key contributors to emissions from operating theatres. But, even though the report highlights many of the negative environmental impacts associated with surgery, it ultimately aims to guide healthcare leaders towards a greener future by providing actionable steps.

… but they are also a part of the solution

The Green Surgery Report outlines five key areas where carbon emissions can be reduced. They are:

  • Reducing need for surgical care
  • Surgical care pathways
  • Operating theatre energy and design
  • Anaesthesia
  • Products used in surgical care

The report also highlights barriers and facilitators to implementation. One particular barrier, it says, will be addressing the challenge of medical supply chains because they are out of direct control of the healthcare providers. Indirect emissions outside of the business, also referred to as Scope 3 emissions, are often the most difficult to mitigate, but just as vital to any businesses’ decarbonisation journey.

While there are many intricacies involved when decarbonising the healthcare sector, the report ultimately calls for a unified, global effort to help decarbonise surgical practice:

“Unified international action will be important to apply collective pressure on industry, and may be facilitated, for example, by collaboration between the World Health Organization and the NHS, which can support policy alignment, shared learning, and coordinated procurement processes.”

For further details, read the full Green Surgery report here.

Are you a healthcare organisation looking to reduce its carbon footprint? Get in touch with an energy expert at Sustainable Energy First for a no-obligations chat.