Reducing carbon emissions in the NHS

Environmentally friendly inhalers bring down CO2 use.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf visited a GP practice during Climate Week to learn about work to support patients to switch to more environmentally friendly asthma inhalers.

The environmental impact of inhalers, used for treating asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is equivalent to around 79,000 tonnes of CO2 a year, more than the NHS fleet of 9300 ambulances, cars, HGVs and motorbikes.

Dry Powder Inhalers which use a person’s own breath to deliver a dose of medicine have less global warming potential than Metered Dose Inhalers which use powerful greenhouse gases.

New guidance, which has patient safety at its centre, will help clinicians to change their inhaler prescribing practises, when suitable, to avoid unnecessary environmental harm.

Guidance will also promote greater understanding of the different types of inhalers for those using them and support any conversations around clinical decisions to switch to a more environmentally friendly device, when it is safe to do so.

Reducing emissions from medicines forms part of the NHS Scotland Climate Emergency and Sustainability Strategy. The updated guidance, which is currently being finalised with input from NHS specialists and patients, will be published this autumn. 

Cabinet Secretary for Health, Humza Yousaf said:

“The climate crisis is a public health crisis, that is why earlier this year we committed to NHS Scotland becoming a net-zero organisation by 2040.

“Reducing the use of emissions from medicines, such as inhalers, will make a significant difference to our overall carbon footprint and we will support patients and medical professionals to make that switch, only where it is clinically appropriate to do so.”

Arlene Shaw, NHS Tayside Respiratory Managed Clinical Network Lead Pharmacist, said:

“We were delighted to welcome the Health Secretary to Tayside today to see first-hand the work we are doing to reduce our carbon footprint across many areas of patient care.  

“We have recently agreed our own inhaler prescribing strategy which promotes effective treatment regimes, while considering the environmental impact. Our strategy ensures we’re working to reduce our CO2 emissions whilst making sure patients remain at the centre of everything we do.”


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