Scotland first to ban environmentally harmful anaesthetic


By Paul Homewood

h/t George Heraghty/Wilson Flood

It’s hard to describe just how appalling and irresponsible this decision is:

Scotland has become the first country in the world to stop its hospitals using the anaesthetic desflurane because of the threat it poses to the environment.

NHS data suggests the gas, used to keep people unconscious during surgery, has a global warming potential 2,500 times greater than carbon dioxide.

Banning it in Scotland – from its peak use in 2017 – would cut emissions equal to powering 1,700 homes a year.

UK hospitals have already cut down.

In the last few years, more than 40 hospital trusts in England and a number of hospitals in Wales have stopped using it.

NHS England will introduce a similar ban from 2024, which – like Scotland – prohibits its use for anything but exceptional circumstances.

Banning it across NHS hospitals in England would cut harmful emissions equivalent to those caused by powering 11,000 homes every year, according to NHS analysis of desflurane use in 2020.

Other countries, including many in Europe, are likely to make similar moves in the next few years.

Dr Kenneth Barker, anaesthetist and clinical lead for Scotland’s national green theatres programme, said he was shocked to find the anaesthetic drug he had used for more than a decade for many major and routine operations was so harmful to the environment.

“I realised in 2017 that the amount of desflurane we used in a typical day’s work as an anaesthetist resulted in emissions equivalent to me driving 670 miles that day,” he said.

“I decided to stop using it straight away and many fellow anaesthetists have got on board.

“When you are faced with something as obvious as this and with the significance it has to the environment – I am very glad we have got to this stage.”

Many hospitals have switched to safe and effective anaesthetic gases with less warming potential such as sevoflurane, which has a global warming potential 130 times that of carbon dioxide, or to using alternative non-gaseous anaesthetics and more efficient equipment.

Scottish Health and Social Care Secretary, Humza Yousaf, said: “Programmes like this are key to our transition to become a net-zero health service, whilst ensuring patient safety remains at the heart of every clinical decision.

Anaesthetics should only be picked on purely medical grounds, and no other. There was obviously a good reason for picking desflurane in the first place, whether effectiveness, safety or simply cost. Thosze good reasons should not simply be passed over for political reasons.

In any event, its contribution to GHGs is infinitesimal, if it is only equivalent to 11,000 homes. That is 0.04% of all UK homes, and around 0.01% of total UK emissions.

Personally I would find it frightening if I heard the guy about to operate on me spouting the nonsense of Dr Kenneth Barker.