MedTech as a sector has always been an enabler of change, delivering unique innovation to the healthcare industry, from AI-driven diagnostic tools to surgical robotic instruments. But whilst they have been disrupting the healthcare sector with ground-breaking innovation, there is one area that hasn’t been sufficiently tackled, one that requires more of an internal look and that is the environmental impact of MedTech companies.
Halston Group recently hosted The UK MedTech Innovation Assembly ’23 event, which featured a panel discussion surrounding how the industry can better embrace sustainability and support wider healthcare infrastructure with its sustainable goals.
The discussions were between those working within NHS Trusts, the Greener NHS, and manufacturers who are driving towards a net zero future. The insight from this session uncovered core areas that are having considerable negative environmental impact.
Moving towards that crucial net zero will require transformational changes across all areas, deploying a range of low carbon technologies alongside adopting new processes that are more circular to avoid the depletion of resources.
There is such an intrinsic link between healthcare and sustainability that as the climate changes and pollution increases, it triggers the emergence of new diseases alongside the increasing number of respiratory disease sufferers. To alleviate pressure on healthcare systems and protect the public’s health it is crucial that the healthcare industry, and thereby the MedTech industry, integrate sustainability into their practices and product development.
Sustainable Software Engineering is an emerging discipline at the intersection of climate science, software, and data centre design. According to Ben Tongue, Digital Net Zero Lead at Greener NHS, sustainable software development is a burning area that needs to be addressed, especially as Trusts across the UK are embracing a digital future and adopting a range of medical technologies.
The carbon footprint of software and technologies is less visible and is only just gaining awareness, so for many in the MedTech field they have yet to apply sustainable software design to their technologies or are very early doors in the redesign.
To bring connectivity, many MedTech applications are hosted on the cloud, meaning they rely on power-intensive data centres. Data centres consume around 2% of global electricity today and by 2030, they could consume as much as 8%. To lessen the impact of these technologies, some practices like green hosting, incorporating JEDI design principles to interfaces, and focusing on modular builds that reuse elements, were among the topics of discussion.
Building digital medical technologies with sustainability in mind, and focusing on efficiency and reduce computing power, will become crucial in the coming years.
Another area that was brought to the attention of the attendees was the wastefulness and carbon footprint associated with anaesthetic gases. This area for concern was brought forward by Ian Menneer, CEO of SageTech.
2% of the NHS’ carbon footprint comes from anaesthetic and analgesic practices. Not only this, have 20 times the environmental impact of greenhouse gases. Recognising the impact of these gases is the first step, and engagement programmes have begun in Trusts across the UK, with some Trusts beginning to use alternative surgical anaesthesia options, such as switching to sevoflurane, a lower carbon alternative of desflurane.
Aside from the considerable impact, there is also a significant amount of waste that coincides with its use. Ian explained further.
“95% of all anaesthetic gases are lost, but it’s amazing what ingenuity there is to address these problems and we need to harness this innovation.”
Ian spoke about SageTech’s solution of developing a circular economy system that safely captures available volatile anaesthetic agents in a reusable canister, where it is recovered and recycled for future reuse – helping to minimise the impact of even lower carbon gases.
Waste is a problem that spans all industries but is especially prevalent in the healthcare sector. Many hospitals and healthcare facilities have adapted single-use equipment to align with infection prevention procedures, spanning from PPE to surgical instruments. Due to the circumstances in which the items are used, they are often considered clinical waste and therefore sent to high-temperature incineration, which the NHS produces approximately 156,000 tonnes of each year.
A huge proportion of this waste can be avoided and can be approached much earlier in the processes than some may think. For MedTechs, especially medical device and equipment manufacturers, sustainability can be embedded into products right from the design phase – adapting the design with reusability in mind.
To assist in this process however, Rich Shaw, Sustainability Lead at Pd-m, explained that “we need more visibility over what the end-of-life for items looks like and a roadmap to follow”.
One key theme that was unanimously agreed by the panel was collaboration and how this will be crucial to enabling real change across the supply chain.
Matt Cooling, Founder of Think Sustain, explained how “collaboration is great, but right now it doesn’t go far enough”.
This was echoed by Ian: “What we achieved in Covid was incredible and we said we would continue this way of collaborating but unfortunately this has largely fallen through, and we need to harness this collaboration again.”
Whether it is a manufacturer, a supporting body, or a user of MedTech, everyone has a role to play in transitioning this industry to a greener future.
Each stakeholder in the field should:
MedTech is up against a very new but exciting challenge, and considering the innovative solutions already deployed across the healthcare sector, and from the passion of speakers and attendees at the event, we at Halston Group have all the confidence that they can achieve it.