Today’s Solutions: November 28, 2022

Healthcare and sustainability have been at the forefront of global discussion lately. Doctors at the UK’s Solihull Hospital in the West Midlands have accomplished something that prioritizes both of these major issues: the world’s first “net-zero” surgery.

To take care of patients effectively, hospitals generate and use up a lot of energy, which creates a large carbon footprint. In fact, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) contributes approximately six percent of the country’s overall CO2 emissions.

However, we may be on the cusp of change, signaled by the first carbon-neutral operation, which was a five-hour bowel cancer surgery. Angel Bhangu, the consultant colorectal surgeon, says that the NHS’s shift away from CO2 emissions will also have a positive long-term impact on everyone’s health, too.

“We may not see that directly in an operating theater, but I think we have a responsibility to our patients, and their families and their children and their grandchildren to make sure that we are planning for their future and a healthy future for them,” Bhangu declares.

How did they make the surgical operation carbon-free?

The emissions from what is believed to be the first carbon-free procedure were cut by 80 percent with the help of the University of Birmingham. They changed a lot to do this, like doctors switching from disposable scrubs to reusable ones and changing how they administered the anesthesia. 

The last 20 percent was offset by the two surgeons who cycled or jogged to work rather than driving as they usually would.

Trees were also planted on the hospital grounds, and they switched their lighting to energy-efficient options like LED lighting to help offset their carbon footprint.

What other ways can medicine curb its environmental impact?

There are plenty of ways the NHS could minimize its environmental impact. Recycling is one area that can use improvement. 

Plastic waste generated by the healthcare system is a huge problem that was only exacerbated by the pandemic. According to a 2019 NHS Providers review, the system disposes of 133,000 tonnes of plastic waste per year, 95 percent of which would go to waste.

If the NHS could turn off the lights that are left on unnecessarily at night, and switch to plastic-free products, the positive impact would be impressive.

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