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From Royal College of Surgeons publication The Bulletin:

So, we can’t see into to the future - or can we? Well, I can. I can see that if we keep operating in the same manner that we have been we won’t have a future, certainly from an environmental perspective.

The World Health Organization recently declared environmental damage as the world’s leading cause of premature death. Yet a single operation can produce up to 814kg of CO2, the same as driving up to 2,273 miles in an average petrol car. As surgeons, it is our responsibility to reduce our damaging impact on the environment and public health. That’s why the College and other institutions are taking action on sustainability – from advocating for greener patient pathways to minimising single use equipment.

Healthcare generates 5% of global annual emissions – the equivalent of 514 coal power plants. Surgery is the biggest offender within the healthcare system. So, why isn’t more being done immediately to reduce this contribution? Published estimates consistently associate hospitals and pharmaceuticals with the biggest greenhouse gas emissions.

We are constantly told that for ‘infection control reasons’ we must wear and use single use items. But where is the evidence for this? Is there evidence that single use items are always safer than reusable ones? Is there evidence that disposable drapes are better than washable for infection prevention? Or is it because most of the time we have been scared into following the ‘advice’ of the big companies selling these items as they have a vested interest in convincing us to use single use items? They get rich. Simple as that. These big companies have no need to encourage us to seek renewable alternatives. A bit like the big oil companies who green wash with offering to invest in some renewables but actually continue pedalling out the fossil fuels that are responsible for 75% of all greenhouse gases.

Why would a company selling a single use bowel stapler, wrapped in vast amounts of hard plastic, want to suggest that alternatives may be viable? They wouldn’t. If they did then they wouldn’t have a lucrative single use product to sell. It’s easier for them to keep selling us staplers at £300 a pop that get chucked into waste bins and not even recycled by the hospitals.

Should the onus be on the companies to take them back and recycle them? Should the companies that sell single use tools be made to pay for them to be recycled at the very least? There are companies that provide bins in theatre and recycle the plastic and metal in single use tools. Should the bill be placed at the feet of the manufacturers rather than at the hospitals’ already over stretched budget?

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Date: 28 May

Posted in News on May 28, 2024

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