‘Ditching the Des’ in theatres helps to reduce greenhouse gases

Our theatres teams have officially ‘ditched the Des’ as part of a project to reduce our environmental impact.

A Sustainability Within Theatres committee was formed in April 2021 to help cut our carbon footprint and the use of greenhouse gases, with the anaesthetic gas desflurane first in their sights.

The theatres team have successfully eliminated the use of desflurane from our Trust, which is one of the worst polluting greenhouse gases. This has helped to reduce the Trust’s use of volatile gases for general anaesthetics from 51% to 21%.

“Anaesthetic gases are responsible for over 2% of all NHS emissions. Desflurane has 60 times the environmental impact of other less harmful greenhouse gases and continues to contribute to global warming for 14 years once used,” said Amy Greengrass, Consultant Paediatric Anaesthetist, who formed the sustainability committee in theatres.

“We presented the science behind the harms desflurane causes, a plan to stop using it and communication of these with anaesthetists and theatre staff, which enabled a smooth switch from desflurane to alternatives such as lower-carbon volatile agents or total intravenous anaesthesia (TIVA). Initially it was still available for emergency theatres and paediatrics. However, over time it wasn’t requested by clinicians and the vaporisers have been gradually returned to the manufacturer.”

From using desflurane for almost half of volatile-based anaesthetics in 2018, NNUH no longer buys desflurane. The monthly carbon saving on volatile agents is over 30,000 kg CO2e or 80,000 miles in the average passenger car.

As part of the Greener NHS agenda, the health service aims to become net zero by 2040 and we published our Green Plan earlier this year.

Amy said the team are looking to other ways to reduce the carbon footprint of theatres, which include reducing nitrous oxide waste and exploring new technology to ‘crack’ nitrous oxide into its component parts, which makes the gas harmless to the environment.

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