Blueprint launched to reduce the environmental footprint in surgery globally

16 November 2023

This report is a blueprint for reducing the environmental impact of surgical care while maintaining the highest standards for our patients.

Dr Ben Dunne, a Thoracic surgeon, who represented RACS as a co-badging organisation on the report said RACS was very pleased to have been part of the process.

“The report provides vital information and a blueprint for surgical organisations and teams internationally to take an evidence-based approach to reducing the environmental impact of surgery while maintaining the highest standards of patient care. The Green Surgery Report supports the direction we are taking as RACS has a strong history of advocating for reducing the carbon footprint in operating theatres and hospitals.

“We recently became the first medical college in Australia to sign up to the newly released Green College Guidelines developed by Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) in collaboration with the Australian Medical Association (AMA). The guidelines provide guidance to medical colleges on how they can reduce the carbon emissions from their organisation by incorporating practical changes to the way they operate. The guidelines also support colleges to develop resources for their fellows/members and embed understanding of how to practice in an environmentally sustainable way,” Dr Dunne added.

RACS recently released a position paper, in collaboration with the Australian College of Perioperative Nurses (ACORN) and the Australasian College of Infection Prevention and Control (ACIPC), outlining the environmental benefits of reusable sterile surgical gowns over single-use surgical gowns, emphasising the equivalent infection prevention outcomes for both.

Dr Dunne said, “We are also very pleased to see action being taken to reduce the environmental impact of anaesthesia and applaud the decision taken in Western Australia to remove Desflurane, a highly potent greenhouse gas, from the public formulary.

“Surgeons must continue to work to reduce the environmental impact of the care we provide while ensuring we maintain excellence in surgical outcomes. RACS has been a strong supporter of the Lancet Commission on Climate and Health for the health community to take a leadership role in advocating for emissions reductions. In its ongoing work, RACS calls on surgeons and hospitals to consider the principles of effective sustainable healthcare and take suitable steps to reduce the impact of surgery on the environment, underpinned by the five Rs: reduce; reuse; recycle; rethink; and research.”

The Green Surgery Report was launched on 14 November 2023. Although the report was led by UK based organisations, it is relevant to surgical teams globally.

Dr Richard Smith, chair of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change said, “The climate crisis is the major threat to health. The world must do everything it can to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, which means change at every level from the global to the personal, including in health systems and surgical practice. Nobody knows how to achieve net zero in surgical practice, and the report makes clear that much more research and innovation will be needed. This report assembles all the current evidence and is filled with recommendations, some of them easy to implement, others more difficult.”

Dr Chantelle Rizan, clinical lecturer at Brighton and Sussex Medical School and an expert in sustainable healthcare, was the academic chair and a leading author of the report. Dr Rizan said, “We are developing a growing body of research that provides an evidence-based strategy for how we can reduce the environmental impact of surgical care. Now it is time to translate that research into real-world action and drive the transition to sustainable models of high-quality patient care. We must build on win-wins, where there are co-benefits for patients, the environment, and the public purse.”

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