Climate harming anaesthetic has become banned in Scotland

Due to the severe threat it poses to the environment, the Scottish government have claimed their country will become the first in the world to ditch the anaesthetic desflurane. 

According to data from the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), desflurane, a volatile inhaled anaesthetic used to keep people unconscious during surgery, has a global warming potential 2,500 times greater than carbon dioxide.

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. Similarly, the EU plans to ban the anaesthetic from 1st January 2026. 

NHS analysis if desflurane use in 2020 shows banning the anaesthetic will reduce harmful emissions by around 40 kilotonnes of carbon a year – equivalent to powering 11,000 homes. 

Research from Aneurin Bevan University Health Board’s anaesthetic department – the first group in Wales to stop the use of desflurane – shows on a typical day anaesthetists can produce up to 500kg of carbon dioxide equivalent. 

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 chris robert


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