The previous month, Medics in the West Midlands, UK performed the world’s first ‘net-zero’ cancer operation. This breakthrough operation paved the way for more sustainable and eco-friendly practices in healthcare. Surgeons at Solihull Hospital in the West Midlands successfully carried out a five-hour key-hole bowel cancer surgery that was completely carbon neutral.

Of course, a patient’s health is the priority. Although, hospitals have a colossal amount of carbon footprint. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is responsible for 6% of the country’s total CO2 emissions. This makes last month’s ‘net-zero’ cancer operation important. This operation was a turning point.

The University of Birmingham said it worked with surgeons to complete the NHS’ “first documented net-zero operation”.

Aneel Bhangu, consultant colorectal surgeon says that NHS is one of the high emitters. So it will have an impact on people’s health in the medium and longer-term. “We may not see that directly in an operating theatre but I think we have a responsibility to our patients, and their families and their children and their grandchildren to make sure that we are planning for their future and a healthy future for them.”

Carbon emissions from the keyhole bowel cancer surgery were cut by 80%, with the remainder countered by the two doctors cycling and running to work – thereby cutting the carbon emissions that would have been released from them driving as usual. Also, they planted three trees on the hospital grounds to offset their carbon footprint.

The operation involved a multitude of changes like wearing reusable scrubs to modify the way anesthesia was administered.

Pain relief is a surprisingly impactful part of an operation. Surgeons injected a liquid instead of conventional gas into the patient’s veins to send them to sleep.

These surgeons have performed the first ‘net-zero’ cancer operation
Conventional anaesthetic contributes to greenhouse gases, says anaesthetic consultant Dr Catriona Frankling.UHB NHS Foundation Trust


Anesthetist Dr. Catriona Frankling said, “One way of keeping a patient asleep is to use anesthetic gases – now these are greenhouse gases and when we use them, the patient breathes them in, they breathe them out, and it gets vented out into the atmosphere and there it can cause global warming.”

Just one year of kidney dialysis is equivalent to seven return flights between London and New York.


Also, the team reviewed everything that is electrical from air conditioning to lights. They came up with a conclusion that the appliances like air conditioners and vapor lights did not need to be kept on overnight, as they currently are. Switching to energy-efficient options like LED lighting also helped.

It will come as no surprise to those working or receiving care from the NHS that recycling was another area where the medics found room for improvement.

Every day, a rich profusion of plastic waste is generated in healthcare settings. This situation only got worse during the COVID pandemic. An NHS Provider review in 2019 estimates, that the system already disposed of 133,000 tonnes of plastic a year, of which 95% goes to waste.


Choosing plastic-free products can feel like a tiny tweak in our own lives, but for a large organization like the NHS, opting for plastic-free products can make a huge positive impact on our environment.

Surgery accounts for a quarter of the emissions from a typical NHS trust, so the modification in operation that Dr. Bhangu and his team made will have huge potential for making medicine greener.


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