Dr Diwakar Ryali Sarma, Secretary Elect of the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) Surgery Section Council, discusses ‘green surgery’ and the importance of environmentally friendly healthcare in the latest issue of Prognosis magazine.
The article addresses the significant environmental impact of surgical care, particularly within resource-intensive operating theatres in hospitals. Dr Sarma highlights the electricity consumption and CO2 emissions generated by instruments, equipment, gowns, and sterilisation practices. Research published this year in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine showed that single-use surgical items contribute two-thirds of the carbon footprint of products used in common operations.
Addressing past concerns about patient safety, Dr Sarma says: "The primary concern has been: does the use of fewer disposable items and less plastic in packaging compromise sterility? Another is: will a 'green' product still be the most effective product for a particular use? I think there is now enough evidence to show that neither of these concerns is valid."
Dr Sarma advocates for collaborative efforts to implement green surgery practices. He says: "Well-run surgical services will always produce a significant amount of waste, but by managing our waste stream to maximise recycling of the appropriate waste, we can make real progress on reducing our overall impact."
The article offers practical steps towards green surgery, such as measuring carbon emissions and implementing standardised guidelines for surgical practices. Dr Sarma acknowledges that the full impact may take time, but the long-term benefits for the environment and healthcare are evident. He states: "Another hurdle green surgery faces is that the outcomes are not immediate. These are three or five-year initiatives, with the changes felt over a period of time. This can feel slightly alien in a discipline used to quick outcomes, but more people are coming on board."
You can read Dr Sarma's article in Issue 12 of Prognosis magazine, available online or in print at the Royal Society of Medicine's central London home at 1 Wimpole Street.
The article also features the thoughts of Elaine Mulcahy, Director of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, of which the RSM is a founding member.