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Scotland has become the first country in the world to ban desflurane, an anesthetic known for damaging the environment. NHS data has shown that gas has a Global warming potential 2,500 times greater than carbon dioxide. Banning desflurane in Scotland from its peak use in 2017 would reduce emissions equivalent to powering 1,700 homes annually. More than 40 hospital trusts in England and several hospitals in Wales have already stopped using the anesthetic in the UK. NHS England will introduce a similar ban in 2024, prohibiting its use for anything but exceptional circumstances.

The ban is expected to reduce harmful emissions equivalent to those caused by powering 11,000 homes annually. Other countries, particularly in Europe, are also expected to follow Scotland’s lead in the next few years. Anesthetist and clinical lead for Scotland’s national green theatres program, Dr. Kenneth Barker, said he was shocked to learn that the anesthetic drug he had used for over a decade for many major and routine operations was so harmful to the environment.

The healthcare industry has become more aware of anesthetic gases’ environmental impact, which comprises 2-5% of the NHS’s carbon footprint. Many hospitals have switched to safer and more effective anesthetic gases with less warming potential, such as sevoflurane, which has a Global warming potential 130 times that of carbon dioxide or have started to use alternative non-gaseous anesthetics and more efficient equipment.

The Scottish Health and Social Care Secretary, Humza Yousaf, has called the ban “key to our transition to become a net-zero health service, while ensuring patient safety remains at the heart of every clinical decision.” Dr. Helgi Johannsson, vice president of the Royal College of Anaesthetists, welcomed the move but warned that it was only the start, stating that “we need to concentrate on all the other major things that can make a difference too.”

As part of its net-zero strategy, NHS England is looking into more environmentally friendly heating and lighting systems, greener vehicles, and the environmental impact of how medicines and equipment are supplied to the NHS.

This ban on desflurane highlights the importance of reducing our carbon footprint in all areas, including healthcare. The healthcare industry can be a leader in sustainability by adopting environmentally friendly practices, such as using alternative anesthetics with less environmental impact. As individuals, we can do our part by supporting environmentally friendly policies and advocating for sustainable practices in all areas of our lives.

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