Surgeons blind to their eco damage

By Leslie Berry

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of surgeons say they have received no guidance to improve the sustainability of their practice. 

A global survey by the Euro­pean Society of Coloproc­t­ology (ESCP) found only 6% of respondents had received direction on sustainable surgery at a national level.

The colorectal surgeons’ organisation said: ‘Surgery is the most energy and waste-intensive specialty in hospitals, contributing significantly to climate change. 

‘According to a Lancet study [‘Countdown on health and climate change 2020’], the healthcare sector is responsible for 4.6% of global carbon emissions, with a single operation releasing an average of 200kg CO2 into the atmosphere. 

‘Nine in ten surgeons agreed there is an urgent need for sustainability guidelines (79%) and further research (92%) to address issues with sustainability in surgery.’ 

The survey, which received 392 online responses from 56 countries, highlights a greater need for healthcare leaders to instigate sector-wide change from the top. Hospital leadership (39%) and policymakers (20%) were identified as having the greatest responsibility to influence the sustainability of surgery. 

And while only 13% felt the responsibility lay with the surgeon or the individual themselves, respondents were eager to consider using fully re-usable or partly re-usable equipment, forgoing non-sterile gloves and reducing the use of anaesthetic gases during surgery. 

The ESCP has made a commitment to conduct new research into sustainable surgery practices to build up the evidence base required to inform clinical guidance.

Its general secretary Prof Antonino Spinelli said: ‘It is time for surgeons to wake up to the sustainability crisis we are facing. 

‘While saving lives must always be our priority, the waste-intensive nature of our practice is harming the environment at an alarming rate and putting our patients’ future health at risk.’   

Over half (56%) of those surveyed felt a key barrier to improving sustainability in colorectal surgery was a lack of understanding across the profession, with over half of respondents unaware of the scale of surgery’s carbon footprint.