Reducing the environmental impact of surgical care while maintaining high-quality patient care is the subject of a new landmark report produced by the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC), Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) and the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare.
In what is thought to be the first detailed account of its kind, the ‘Green Surgery’ report includes a clear set of recommendations on achieving net zero surgical care.
Reducing and reusing products used in surgery, shutdown checklists for operating rooms to save energy when not in use and switching to less harmful anaesthetics are all highlighted as ways in which carbon emissions could be reduced.
The report also highlights the importance of surgeons and patients working together to optimise their treatment, as well as the role of disease prevention and health promotion in transitioning to more sustainable models of surgical care.
Commenting on the scope of the report, Dr Richard Smith, chair of the UKHACC, said: ‘This report assembles all the current evidence and is filled with recommendations, some of them easy to implement, others more difficult.
‘Although the report has been produced primarily with the UK in mind, there is much that will be useful to surgical teams everywhere. Nobody knows how to achieve net zero in surgical practice, and the report makes clear that much more research and innovation will be needed.
‘We need urgently to improve funding for getting all of healthcare, including surgical practice, to net zero, and we need to provide training and career paths for researchers.’
Involving significant input and collaboration with individuals and organisations working across the surgical care pathway, the report is aimed at everyone involved in surgical care, including colleges, associations and societies, the NHS, suppliers, policy makers, clinicians and patients.
In the UK, surgical care is responsible for an estimated 5.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year, according to the report, which is equivalent to that from heat, electricity, transport and waste of 700,000 UK homes.
Professor Mahmood Bhutta, consultant ear, nose and throat surgeon, professor of sustainable healthcare at BSMS, and chair of the committee leading the project, said: ‘We know that staff in the NHS, including surgical teams, are keen to reduce the environmental impact of the care they provide.
‘We hope this report will provide them with a roadmap and tool to support them on that journey. Providing surgical care and protecting the planet can, and should, go hand in hand.’
Dr Chantelle Rizan, clinical lecturer at BSMS and academic chair and a leading author on the report, added: ‘We are developing a growing body of research that provides an evidence-based strategy for how we can reduce the environmental impact of surgical care.
‘Now it is time to translate that research into real-world action, and to drive the transition to sustainable models of high-quality patient care. We must build on win-wins where there are co-benefits for patients, the environment and the public purse.’
She added: ‘What we do between now and 2030 is of utmost importance and we cannot wait for systems to change. We need to all be taking action tomorrow and thinking about that one thing that we can commit to.’
Earlier in November, the World Health Organization published a new operational framework for building climate-resilient, low-carbon and sustainable health systems across the world.
And last month, the International Hospital Federation’s Geneva Sustainability Centre launched a new platform to digitally empower hospitals and healthcare leaders to drive sustainable, low-carbon, equitable and resilient healthcare.