22nd December 2015 – An Airedale anaesthetist joins global campaigners for a ‘greener’ world
The irony of flying half way round the world to California to lobby about sustainability was not lost on anaesthetist and eco warrior Frank Swinton.
He had sleepless nights over whether to take up the offer and speak about his passion at the American Society of Anesthesiologists annual event in San Diego held last month (October) which attracts 15,000 delegates as he had not flown for five years in a bid to help protect the environment for future generations.
But the chance to get his voice heard worldwide was too good an opportunity to miss and so he took part in an international panel of four people alongside Dr Jodi Shermon, of Yale University; Forbes McGain of Melbourne University and consultant Paul Fenton who founded the Malawi School of Anaesthesia and spoke about sustainable healthcare.
Frank said: “It was such an amazing opportunity to meet and share ideas with global leaders on sustainability and develop a network which can now take these plans forward.
As a regional leader for the Sustainable Development Unit Frank helps develops national strategy on sustainability and looks at significantly reducing the environmental impact of healthcare in the UK.
To devote more time to raising awareness of the benefits of protecting the environment, Frank recently stepped down from his role as clinical director for anaesthetics, theatres and critical care at Airedale NHS Foundation Trust. He has set up an ecoawAire group at the hospital which has supported the replacement of 2,800 lights, introducing three boilers and a combined heat and power unit, recycling 80 percent of domestic waste and upgrading the ventilation systems in the trust’s operating theatres to be more energy efficient, saving around £500,000 a year to be invested in services and reducing the site’s carbon footprint.
Frank said: “My aim is to continue to incorporate sustainability considerations as core business at Airedale in every major decision that is made, such as who we do business with and where we spend our money, so that the hospital becomes an exemplar site for great practice.”
Sustainability extends to looking at only using things when they are needed instead of “just in case” so reducing the number of packets opened only to throw things away; standardising practice, for example, three surgeons will use the same company for hip joints reducing the number of deliveries on-site and staff only print documents when necessary.
“The language of sustainability is changing now,” commented Frank. “It used to focus on ‘carbon footprint’ and ‘environmental impact’ but now the rhetoric is about providing high quality healthcare when a patient needs it and doing things only once, at the right time, so they can quickly resume their life again. It’s about prolonging life rather than postponing death. A compelling vision is for hospitals to be the hub of a community which offers opportunities for education and keeping people healthy with facilities such as a gym on site which in turn would reduce staff turnover and sickness. ”
Huge quantites of waste are produced in operating theatres – especially plastic packaging, surgical drapes which are used once then thrown away and the gasses often used by anaesthetists are harmful to the environment. Frank uses anaesthetic with no vapour to reduce its environmental impact for 50 percent of his procedures.
“There are alternatives to use things more often and sterilise them but critics claim they cost more and that it’s easier just to chuck things away.,” he said.
It was a trip to Antarctica as a member of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) team where Frank learned about climate science. He said: “There was no chance of more supplies out there, you had to be really careful and live with what you had. I came back to a society where there is such huge waste – so many types of margarine, but all basically the same – and a lot of people have no connection to the natural world.”
Frank, aged 39, moved from Bournemouth to take up his job as a consultant anaesthetist at Airedale Hospital and chose a house near the hospital and close to local amenities so that he can ride his bike two miles to work, walk to the local school and shops.
His family – his wife Alex (who teaches at a local secondary school) and children, aged seven and four – have dramatically reduced the amount of meat and dairy products they eat due to their environmental impact. They spend as much time as possible outdoors, buy clothes almost exclusively from charity shops and recycle everything they can sending as little waste as possible to landfill. They have reduced the carbon impact of their home, using possible LED lightbulbs, TRV fittings on radiators and insulating roof and walls carefully.
Frank said: “We try keep in mind the environmental impact of our decisions – whether they’re about clothes, food or entertainment or anything – for ourselves and others. It’s this ethos that informs the work that I’ve done at Airedale too. It’s not complicated – it’s about living responsibly, healthily, happily, and within our means.”
However they have a great quality of life Frank insists: “This isn’t about wearing home-spun hemp and eating yogurt or living in a cave with the lights out, we take holidays, travel to visit friends, eat delicious food and have fibre optic broadband. It’s about making informed choices and bearing in mind the impact that your actions will have on those living in a different time or place to you.”