CO2 Dial Turned Down to Low Emissions

The NHS is a major source of C02, with emissions often ‘baked in’ to the products and equipment it uses and the processes it operates. So what’s being done to make things better? Dave Duffy explains.

As I write this, COP26 in Glasgow is still a recent memory and commentators seem generally of the opinion that it’s at least a step in the right direction, even if what was required was a giant leap. Clearly, the biggest scope for change lies in tackling the biggest polluters. Once you’ve accounted for the coal and gas plants, the steelmakers and cattle farmers, one of the biggest greenhouse gas emitting industries is healthcare. Healthcare in the world’s largest economies accounts for about 4.4% of global CO2e (carbon dioxide and equivalents) emissions. In the UK, and as of 2019, the NHS was responsible for about 5.4% of the country’s greenhouse gases.

Why is the NHS so bad for the environment?
In such an enormous organisation, you won’t be surprised to find an almost infinite number of factors at play. Some of the bigger and more obvious ones are an estate of often old and energy- inefficient buildings, a huge fleet of diesel powered ambulances, and too many hospitals that still use coal powered boilers.

Beyond that, though, are lots of more unexpected polluters. Most asthma inhalers can’t be recycled, for example. And as The Guardian notes, “greenhouse gas emissions from anaesthetic gases make up 5% of acute hospitals’ total emissions.”

The need for change
Every industry needs to look at its effect on the climate and do all it can to reduce it. I would suggest that’s doubly the case for the NHS partly because it would be perverse for a socially aligned organisation not to. And partly because, as an organisation which exists to protect, we should do all we can to ensure our actions do no harm.

A carbon net zero NHS
It’s heartening, therefore, to see the NHS committing to becoming the first national health service in the world to commit to becoming carbon net zero. The aim is for the NHS to be at net zero for emissions under its direct control by 2040, and at net zero for all emissions (including those in its supply chain) by 2045.

Playing our part
We’ll need big, structural change to make this happen. As just one example of that, virtually every ambulance in the NHS will need to run on renewables. Trials begin with the first electric ambulances in 2022. But every member of the NHS can do their bit, and that includes YKC’s knee surgeons.

All of us are involved in the development or refinement of implants and other products designed to improve knee surgery. Often these will come in swathes of packaging. Some of it is entirely essential – we must ensure tools are sterile. But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t use less and use it less often.

So we are open to having conversations with production and manufacturing companies to help work out what packaging we really need. If you are a medical manufacturer producing implants or other products and tools for orthopaedic surgery and would like to explore ways of reducing waste, please get in touch.

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Dave Duffy

Dave Duffy

Private appointments weekly at The Duchy Hospital Harrogate & Nuffield Hospital Leeds

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The Duchy Hospital Harrogate
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Nuffield Leeds
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