Nuffield Health stops using environmentally-harmful anaesthetic gas to reduce carbon footprint

Nuffield Health’s teams across the UK are helping to fight climate change by switching to lower carbon alternatives.

Anaesthetic gases are commonly used as part of hospital surgery. Desflurane is one of the most common anaesthetic gases used in the NHS and independent sector hospitals. However, Desflurane is also one of the most environmentally harmful gases. 

According to NHS England, it has 20 times the environmental impact of other less harmful greenhouse gases and using a bottle has the same global warming effect as burning 440 kg of coal.

Nuffield Health’s 37 hospitals across the UK have stopped using Desflurane since the start of this year (January 2023). They are now using more Sevoflurane which has a much lower carbon footprint - 130 times more warming than CO2 over 100 years, compared to Desflurane which is 2540 times more warming over the same period. 

Dr Sumit Das, Consultant Paediatric Anaesthetist at Nuffield Health Oxford Hospital and Oxford University NHS Foundation Trust, says: 

“It’s fantastic to see Nuffield Health making such a strong commitment towards sustainability. Desflurane was originally introduced as an agent that promised a faster wake up time. Systematic reviews show that patients wake up to 3 minutes faster with Desflurane compared to Sevoflurane. 

“However, no research paper has demonstrated that Desflurane leads to patients leaving recovery earlier. Given the significant negative impact of Desflurane on the climate, eradicating its use from Nuffield Health’s hospitals is a significant step towards reaching carbon net zero by 2040.”

Nuffield Health’s teams across its 37 hospitals, 114 fitness and wellbeing centres, healthcare clinics, and workplace wellbeing services are committed to reducing carbon emissions and working towards a more sustainable healthcare model.  

For example, Nuffield Health has launched the new Green Healthcare Leadership Programme as part of a multi-year partnership between Nuffield Health and the Florence Nightingale Foundation, aiming to drive nursing leadership in sustainability across the healthcare sector. 

This unique programme started in October 2022 with twenty nurses from the independent sector implementing projects designed to instigate change and reduce carbon, costs and make social and environmental impacts. These changes include lowering the use of single-use plastics, more effective waste management, and reducing over-subscribing of medication.  

Victoria Hadley, Head of Social Impact and Sustainability at Nuffield Health, says: 

“Our decision to stop using Desflurane across our hospitals will result in a reduction of just under 1000 tonnes of carbon for this year (2023). As part of our Greener Surgery strategy, we are also working hard to reduce our emissions associated with energy use, waste and single-use items.

As part of our drive to become a sustainable healthcare leader, we’ve set ambitious targets to reach carbon net zero by 2040, with a shorter-term goal of carbon net zero in our own operations by 2030. These targets demonstrate how our purpose, to build a healthier nation, is core to everything we do”.

The charity continues to prioritise the procurement of renewable produced power and 100% of directly purchased electricity comes from natural renewable sources. 

Nuffield Health is also investing in infrastructure such as air handling units and upgrading building management systems to increase heating, ventilation, and air conditioning energy efficiency across its 114 fitness and wellbeing centres across the UK.

Last updated Wednesday 17 May 2023

First published on Wednesday 17 May 2023