ESCP to conduct new research following investigation into the environmental impact of surgical practice

ESCP's #SustainableSurgery
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New research reveals almost three-quarters (74%) of surgeons have not received any guidance to improve the sustainability of their practice.

In a global survey carried out by the European Society of Coloproctology (ESCP), only 6% of respondents had received direction on sustainable surgery at a national level, with the same proportion receiving guidance from their employer.

Surgery is the most energy and waste-intensive specialty in hospitals, contributing significantly to climate change. According to a Lancet study, the healthcare sector is responsible for 4.6% of global carbon emissions, with a single operation releasing an average of 200kg CO2e into the atmosphere. [1]

Four-fifths of surgeons agreed there is an urgent need for sustainability guidelines (79%) and 9 in 10 would welcome further research (92%) to address issues with sustainability in surgery. The study highlights a greater need for healthcare leaders to instigate sector-wide change from the top with hospital leadership (39%) and policymakers (20%) identified as having the greatest responsibility to influence the sustainability of surgery.

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

In response to the findings, ESCP has made a commitment to conduct new research into sustainable surgery practices in order to build up the evidence base required to inform clinical guidance.

Professor Antonino Spinelli, General Secretary of the ESCP, commented:

"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.

"By instigating new research, the ESCP hopes to advance the establishment of safe, more sustainable surgical practices; however, we also encourage wider sector collaboration to assemble the robust pool of evidence needed on this issue. Policy and healthcare leadership will also be crucial components to success to improve process and culture; reviews into both national and hospital-level protocols will be key to effect this much needed, system-wide change."

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.

The study was carried out during the ESCP’s #SustainableSurgery campaign, which aimed to educate the surgical community on the issues of sustainability in surgery and inform the society’s sustainability agenda.

  1. MacNeill AJ, Lillywhite R, Brown CJ. The impact of surgery on global climate: a carbon footprinting study of operating theatres in three health systems. Lancet Planet Health. 2017;1(9):e381-e388. doi:10.1016/S2542-5196(17)30162-6

Sustainable Surgery Infographic

  1. Watts, N., Amann, M., Arnell, N., Ayeb-Karlsson, S., Belesova, K., Boykoff, M., Byass, P., Cai, W., Campbell-Lendrum, D., Capstick, S. and Chambers, J., 2019. The 2019 report of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: ensuring that the health of a child born today is not defined by a changing climate. The Lancet, 394(10211), pp.1836-1878.
  2. MacNeill, A.J., Lillywhite, R. and Brown, C.J., 2017. The impact of surgery on global climate: a carbon footprinting study of operating theatres in three health systems. The Lancet Planetary Health, 1(9), pp.e381-e388.
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