Air pollution Dr cartoon

RJ Heron
1 minute read

Anaesthesia has been used in healthcare for over 175 years and has saved countless lives, allowing procedures to be delivered safely and painlessly. Anaesthetics are here to stay however, by early 2024 we’re phasing out desflurane – the most polluting.

What does this change mean?

Aesthetic gases account for 2% of the overall national NHS carbon footprint and we are committed to reducing this by transforming anaesthetic practice.

But don’t worry, safe alternatives exist such as the less polluting medical gas sevoflurane, and alternative anaesthetic techniques like regional anaesthesia.

The good news is that the same great treatment can be provided, with a reduced impact on the planet.

What does pollution from desflurane look like?

Desflurane is 2500 times more impactful than carbon dioxide, using just one bottle produces the same number of emissions as burning 440 kg of coal or driving 3200 miles in an average car. Whilst a bottle of sevoflurane is equivalent to driving only 700 miles.

The phasing out of desflurane across the NHS will reduce our national carbon footprint by 40 kilotonnes of carbon per year – which is equivalent to powering 11,000 homes for a year.

A big step on our road to Net Zero

The journey to reducing desflurane use started some years ago. Over the last five years, the national proportion of desflurane use compared to other anaesthetic gases has reduced from 20% to 3%, with over 40 trusts no longer using the gas altogether.

Anaesthetics have been saving lives for more than a century and by reducing their environmental impact, they have the chance to save even more in the future.

This national commitment to phase out desflurane supports the pledges made on a national and organisational scale to meet our collective goal of delivering a net zero health service by 2040.