As operating theatres are responsible for three to six times more emissions than the rest of the hospital, tackling the issue must be made a top priority. Kate Woodhead RGN DMS looks at how perioperative teams can help to reduce their carbon footprint and contribute towards a greener future.
You will already be aware that the NHS in England has a great deal of work to do to reduce its carbon footprint and in 2020 pledged to commit to reaching carbon Net Zero for the emissions that it can directly control by 2040 and those it can influence by 2045. The target is a reduction by 80% between 2028 and 2032. Wales and Scotland have different targets, for Scotland, this is Net Zero by 2045 while the health service in Wales has committed to a 34% reduction by 2030. Northern Ireland health services have not yet set a target. The Paris agreement, signed by the UK, along with nearly 200 other countries, agreed to limit greenhouse gas emissions to keep the mean global temperature rise to below 2 degrees above preindustrial levels
It has been calculated that healthcare is responsible at present for 5.4% of all greenhouse gas emission production in the UK. The consequences of not taking any action may result in an additional 250,000 deaths per year between 2030 and 2050 due to increased heat stress, malnutrition, malaria and diarrhoea.1 Operating theatres are responsible for three to six times more emissions than the rest of the hospital, so it is absolutely a top priority for us to tackle now. This is a ‘take action now’ scenario. The main reasons that theatres are so high on the emission production list are because of the vast quantities of waste produced, the use of anaesthetic gases and high energy demands from lighting, heating and ventilation.
So, what can we do to make change happen and reduce the carbon footprint of our perioperative environment? We all need to join this campaign and be part of the sustainability challenge. NHS England2 has identified areas that can be indirectly impacted by our activity. These are listed in table 1, and have been dubbed ‘NHS Carbon Footprint Plus’. Further indirect emission focus is placed on electricity.
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