When you are asked by an anaesthetist to count backwards from one hundred, your carbon footprint might not be at the top of your mind. However, a bottle of one of the anaesthetic gases used to help put you to sleep, desflurane (in its liquid form), contains the carbon dioxide equivalent to a whole year’s eight mile commute to and from work in a car.

Now, clinicians across NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde have worked to minimise the use of the gas, reducing its impact on the environment and saving money in the process. The news comes during Scotland’s Climate Week and the countdown to Glasgow hosting the COP26 Climate Conference at the end of October.

Dr Geraldine Gallagher, an anaesthetist based at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, has been leading the effort to reduce use of the gas. She said: “It became apparent some years ago that the effect these agents have on the environment is not equal, and that one of the gases in common use, desflurane, has a significantly worse impact in terms of how long it stays in the atmosphere, and how it contributes to the greenhouse gas effect.

“Since then we’ve been working hard to reduce the use of this gas, using alternatives which are just as effective for patients, but altogether better for our environment.”

Dr Gallagher helped set up a project to persuade colleagues to limit their use of desflurane, by ensuring the desflurane cartridge had to be actively placed in the anaesthetic machine. She added: “We began by explaining the issues to our colleagues and getting them on board – and I’m pleased to say that it’s been a great success, with far less use of the damaging gas across our hospital sites.”

Such has been the success of the project, that in some months the department at GRI hasn’t needed to order any of the damaging desflurane at all – and the work will be highlighted as part of a submission from the Scottish Environmental Anaesthesia Group at COP26 next month.

Dr Gallagher added: “We’ve done the maths and we’ve worked out that in just three months, the CO2 saving is equivalent to the entire department’s annual commute put together.

“We’re now spreading the word with colleagues in other hospitals and health board areas – if we all move to discontinue the use of desflurane, it could add up to a lot of savings for the environment.”

Dr Gallagher added that patients should not worry about any impact on them. She added: “You will still fall fast asleep – we have a range of different anaesthesia treatments which are just as effective, it’s just that they’re not as damaging to the environment.”