Reducing CO2e Emissions from Anaesthetic Gas  

Libby Sutherland, Sustainability Manager at the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, describes how changing the primary choice of anaesthetic gas has enabled drastically reduced carbon emissions with no impact on the high level of care provided. 

What is Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust responsible for? 

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (LTHT) in West Yorkshire provides healthcare and specialist services for people from the city of Leeds, Yorkshire and the Humber and beyond. It employs over 19,000 staff across six main sites and treats over 1,420,000 patients per year.  With a vision to become one of the greenest Trusts in the country it has joined the National Health Service (NHS) commitment to achieve net-zero carbon.   

Why did you seek to reduce emissions from anaesthetic gas? 

Medical procedures carried out at the Trust often require the use of anaesthetic gases. These gases produce carbon emissions, in our baseline year (2013) 7,848 tCO2e was emitted by anaesthetic gases, 8% of our scope 1 and 2 emissions. LTHT and the NHS are committed to achieving a carbon net-zero by 2040, reducing the carbon emissions from anaesthetic gases is a key step in achieving this goal.  

What work did you do? 

The environmental impact of the two main anaesthetic gases; Desflurane and Sevoflurane are significantly different. However, their clinical application and impact is negligible. Because the environmental impact of Desflurane is approximately 15 times greater than Sevoflurane we have launched a campaign to reduce the use of Desflurane in favour of Sevoflurane where clinically appropriate.  

This campaign has involved informing and educating our anaesthetist colleagues about the environmental impact of the anaesthetic gases, the Trust’s sustainability agenda and how their clinical choices can influence the climate. A behaviour change initiative was run with the department to encourage a shift away from Desflurane.   This scheme has been easily implemented as clinical staff were quick to adopt Sevoflurane as the primary anaesthetic agent where suitable. 

We sought advice from colleagues at other Trusts and the Royal College of Anaesthetists.  

What were the benefits and impact of this work? 

A reduction in carbon emissions from anaesthetic gases of 53% (3086 tCO2e) was achieved in 2019 from the baseline year of 2013. The interventions only started in August 2019 so the reductions achieved in 2020/21 are expected to be even greater. 

How can your work be used to encourage change across the region? 

NHS Trusts in Yorkshire and Humber can share best practice to help reduce anaesthetic gas emissions. Following the impressive reductions in CO2e emissions from this scheme since 2019 we intend to implement the scheme further and share our best practice with other organisations. 

Do you have a tip to share? 

Consider ways you could switch products or services to low carbon alternatives.