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 just the same proportion receiving guidance from their employer. In addition, almost three-quarters (74%) of surgeons have not received any guidance to improve the sustainability of their practice.
“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,” commented General Secretary of the ESCP, Professor Antonino Spinelli. “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.”
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.
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. The ‘Capturing Opinions on Sustainable Surgery’ study was conducted online by the ESCP between 11-31 July 2021, adhering to the CHERRIES guidelines. A sample of 392 healthcare professionals from 56 countries worldwide were consulted including consultant surgeons, registrars, interns and residents.
The outcomes of the survey reported:
- Nine in ten surgeons agreed there is an urgent need for sustainability guidelines
- 92% agreed there is an urgent need to address issues with sustainability in surgery
- Hospital leadership (39%) and policymakers (20%) identified as having the greatest responsibility to influence the sustainability of surgery
- 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
- Over half (56%) of those surveyed felt a key barrier to improving sustainability in colorectal surgery was a lack of understanding across the profession; and
- Over half of respondents unaware of the scale of surgery’s carbon footprint.
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.