NHS to ban anaesthetic to hit net zero despite climate scientist saying concern is 'not supported by science'

1 October 2023, 07:20

Anaesthetists are set to stop using one anaesthetic
Anaesthetists are set to stop using one anaesthetic. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

The NHS is banning a kind of anaesthetic to reach its net zero target, despite a climate scientist saying concerns are unfounded.

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The health service is set to decommission desflurane to help cut down on "harmful emissions".

But Prof Dame Julia Slingo, the Met Office’s former chief scientist, said: "NHS directives to ban desflurane are not supported by climate science and should be reversed.

"The use of desflurane should be based on what is best for the patient."

According to NHS England, desflurane is "one option used by anaesthetists to put patients to sleep safely, but it has a global warming potential 2,500 times greater than carbon dioxide".

The health service adds: "Over the course of a decade, emissions saved through the elimination of desflurane would be equivalent to those that result from powering every home in Plymouth for a year."

But Prof Dame Julia, whose daughter is an anaesthetist, told a conference of doctors that anaesthetic gases "have no climate impact".

They have "a vanishing[ly] small effect ... lifetimes are too short and concentrations too low," she added.

Her speech was met with applause from anaesthetists at the conference, which took place on September 13, despite their professional body having supported the NHS' plan.

Dr Nick Fletcher, a consultant in London, said desflurane was useful for "super-obese patients". He said: "Banning it removes a useful agent for patient care without a wider environmental benefit."

An NHS spokesman said: “There are safe and clinically effective alternatives to desflurane that are already widely in use.

"The NHS decision to decommission desflurane has strong clinical support, including from the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Association of Anaesthetists, and we are working with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and professional bodies to ensure this is implemented safely.”