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Theatre teams have been helping to develop and test a unique process to capture and recycle the anaesthetic gases

Award winning anaesthesia innovation reduces cost and carbon footprint

An award winning innovation being used in theatres at the Royal Cornwall Hospital is saving money and helping to save the planet.

Working with SageTech Medical, Innovate UK and the University of Exeter, theatre teams have been helping to develop and test a unique process to capture and recycle the anaesthetic gases that are used to put people to sleep.

During surgery, when anaesthetics are administered via a facemask, only a small proportion is absorbed by the body and around 95% of them are currently released directly into the atmosphere. SageTech Medical’s new technology captures the waste gas before it is released to the environment, then purifies it ready for recycling and reuse, aiming to save money and cut emissions.

Roberta Fuller, General Manager for Anaesthetics, Critical Care and Theatres at RCHT said, “This is an exciting innovation for healthcare. Not only is it cost effective but it will help us in reducing our environmental impact, something that we are passionate about at RCHT.  We are proud to be at the forefront of this new technology and to be working with SageTech, Innovate UK and the University of Exeter on a project that could have such a major impact across the NHS.”

Inhalable anaesthetics are hydrofluorocarbons (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’s work was recognised last month as the project won the Association of Anaesthetists 2020 Award for Innovation in Anaesthesia, Critical Care and Pain.

Speaking after the awards, Dr Sebastian Brown, co-founder and Research Director of SageTech said “We are delighted to win the Association Innovation Prize 2020. SageTech is very excited to bring the possibility of recycling inhalational anaesthetics to life, to reduce our carbon footprint and enable flexibility in the way we deliver anaesthesia.

“We are pleased to be able to recognise the invaluable contribution from our industrial partners, funders and anaesthetists who have supported us and made this possible. Industry and healthcare professionals are coming together to address climate change and we are privileged to be a part of this transformation.”

At the University of Exeter Medical School, Professor Karyn Morrissey and Dr Xiaocheng Hu are using their research skills to estimate the carbon footprint of anaesthetics used by the NHS.  Professor Karyn Morrissey said: “It might be surprising for some people to realise by the extent to which commonplace surgical practices can actually damage the environment. It's great to see this collaboration working to resolve that, and we hope this best practice will be expanded into many other trusts. We're really excited to be part of a project that will help health care services become more sustainable."

The significance of the project is already attracting national and international attention, with invitations to present at the 2020 Euroanaesthesia Conference in Barcelona and at the NHS Confederation Expo in the UK in June.

For our latest research, follow @ExeterMed and visit our news webpage.

Date: 27 February 2020

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