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Inhalable anaesthetics are HFCs, known to be highly pollutive

£762,000 Innovate UK award to commercialise world’s first anaesthetic recycling

The University of Exeter has partnered with a Westcountry-based medical equipment specialist to test a world first approach to recycling anaesthetics which are routinely used in operations.

SageTech Medical Equipment Ltd, based in Paignton, Devon, is leading a partnership that has secured £762,000 from Innovate UK to continue developing its unique process to capture anaesthetics that are administered to put people to sleep.

When anaesthetics are administered via facemask, only a small proportion is absorbed by the body and around 95% of the highly polluting agent is currently released directly into the atmosphere. Once captured, extracted and purified under the new cutting-edge process, this excess anaesthetic can be placed back on the market and reused in clinic, aiming to save money and cut emissions.

The Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust is taking a lead role in optimising the technique in NHS clinics. Experts from the University of Exeter will provide independent validation on whether the technique generates environmental emissions and cost savings.

Inhalable anaesthetics are HFCs, known to be highly pollutive. However, legislation designed to curb and eradicate HFCs is not currently enforced for anaesthetic agents because viable recycling solutions are not available. Just 1kg of commonly-used anaesthetic, desflurane, for example, is the equivalent of 2,500kg of CO2.

SageTech is consulting with the UK’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to understand how the reduction in HFC emissions using SageTech’s technology can support the UK government’s phase down obligations and the carbon budget. The ECEHH study will complement this consultation.

Dr Karyn Morrissey, Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health, said: “Technology that mitigates the impact of health services on the environment is essential; however, given current resource constraints, all new technologies must be cost effective. Given the environmental and subsequent human health impacts of anaesthetic gases, we’re excited to provide a full environmental and economic cost benefit analysis of SageTech’s technology.”

Co-founder and Research Director, Dr Sebastian Brown said: “At SageTech, we have a clear ambition to be the leader of sustainable anaesthesia worldwide. We are delighted to have secured an Innovate UK award for this unique project and look forward to working with the European Centre for Environment and Human Health to address the huge problem of environmental emissions in anaesthesia.”

The Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust Clinical Innovation lead, Pete Ford said: “It is very exciting for the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital to be partnered with SageTech and to be involved with helping develop this technology. This is one of the smartest innovations in anaesthesia for many decades. It will completely change the way we deliver anaesthetics to patients. It’s a real show stopper. I am proud to say it puts Devon on the global map in terms of developing exciting healthcare innovations.”

Dr Sarah Wollaston, MP and Chair of the Commons Health Select Committee said of SageTech: “I support examining the opportunities for innovation to reduce both financial and environmental costs whilst maintaining the safety of anaesthetic practice.”

Date: 20 March 2019

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