Surgeons Pull off World’s First Sustainable Surgery


By Dela Ahiawor

The sustainability wildfire just hit the healthcare sector, for the reason that surgeons in the U.K. recently pulled off the world’s first documented net zero (sustainable) surgery.

During a keyhole procedure to remove a bowel cancer at Solihull Hospital in England- surgeons from the University of Birmingham collaborated with the surgical team at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust.

Together, they introduced several changes to their normal practice to help steer surgery towards a greener future. Fact is, the operating theatre is an area of high emissions due to the impact of anaesthetic gases used, as well as the number of high energy devices, and the high amount of waste produced.

Some of the changes to the surgical team’s normal practice include: Using reusable gowns, drapes and scrub caps. Giving medications through the veins for general anaesthesia rather than anaesthetic gases, which have a strong greenhouse effect.

Implementing a plan for minimising electricity use, including heating and lighting. Recycling of single-use equipment used in surgery, working with industry partners. Recycling of ‘clean’ paper and plastic waste. Using individually packed equipment, and only opening items as they were required.

The surgical team during first net zero operation included: Surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses, cleaners, porters, and managers.

University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB) Consultant Surgeon and Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham, Mr Aneel Bhangu, in a recent press release said: “Operating theatres are resource intensive environments, contributing to 25% of the Trust’s carbon output. We cannot achieve net zero health systems without making surgery more green, so this is a vital proof of concept step.”

He went on to say that: “Ensuring healthcare is environmentally friendly is important to patients and communities. These measures require changes in behaviour and care pathways across complex teams. We now hope to work with colleagues across the UK to create a wider impact across the NHS and provide best practice that will help healthcare professionals around the world.”

For his part, patient advocate and research involvement lead Dr Lesley Booth CBE said: “Reducing the environmental impact of surgery is hugely important to improving health more broadly. We know that climate change and air pollution has wide impacts on health, many of which aren’t measurable until years to come. I would want my operation in a hospital that cares about the environment, showing its commitment to patients and public health.”

This first net zero operation combines evidence-based approaches and documents using a carbon output calculator developed specifically for this task by experts, led by Dr Dmitri Nepogodiev, at the University of Birmingham.

Sustainable (green) surgery urges the surgical community to take action in their operation theatres to help reduce the global impact of climate change, and as well improve standards in the healthcare system.

 —Dela Ahiawor focuses on sustainability/ climate related journalism and events across the globe—

Contacts: Email:  Twitter: @DAhiawor

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