22nd December 2015 – An Airedale anaesthetist joins global campaigners for a ‘greener’ world
It was the first time I had flown for five years when I took part in the American Society of Anesthesiologists annual event in San Diego and spoke about my passion – sustainability.
The irony of flying half way round the world to California to do this wasn’t lost on me and I had several sleepless nights over whether to take up the offer. But it was too good an opportunity to miss to lobby to protect the environment for future generations at this worldwide event which attracts 15,000 delegates.
I was interviewed on screen in the middle of the night due to the difference in time zone by Dr Jodi Shermon, of Yale University to take part on a panel. Little did she know I was in tracksuit bottoms below my smart shirt and tie – although when I got to know her it wouldn’t have mattered. Also on the panel was Forbes McGain of Melbourne University and consultant Paul Fenton who founded the Malawi School of Anaesthesia.
It was such an amazing opportunity to meet and share ideas with global leaders on sustainability and develop a network which is now taking these plans forward.
It was a trip to Antarctica as a member of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) team where I first learned about climate science. 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.
As a regional leader for the Sustainable Development Unit I play a part in helping to develop national strategy on sustainability looking at significantly reducing the environmental impact of healthcare in the UK.
I have just stepped down from my role as clinical director for anaesthetics, theatres and critical care to devote more time to raising awareness of the benefits of protecting the environment and work on Airedale NHS Foundation Trust’s ecoawAire group which I set up a few years ago. This group 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.
My aim is for sustainability to be 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, 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. For 50 percent of my procedures I use an anaesthetic with no vapour to reduce its environmental impact.
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.