The Maternity Unit at Copenhagen’s Hvidovre Hospital has recently reintroduced nitrous oxide to support women in labour pain, having ceased using it a decade ago due to concerns over potential health risks to staff. Denmark has since, however, developed new safety protocols for N2O use, and with the gas a highly effective analgesic, the hospital wanted to reintroduce it, but needed to address its substantial climate footprint. Jannik Jensen, Global Product manager at Medclair, and his colleague, R&D manager, Olesya Nikonova, explain how a Medclair central nitrous oxide destruction system met the brief.
Nitrous oxide (N2O) gas was first synthesised in 1772 by English natural philosopher and chemist, Joseph Priestley. Its first use as an anaesthetic gas in the treatment of a patient was when dentist, Horace Wells, assisted by Gardner Quincy Colton and John Mankey Riggs, demonstrated its pain relief during a dental extraction on 11 December 1844.1 Today nitrous oxide is widely used globally in a variety of healthcare settings – ranging from dentists’ surgeries to Accident & Emergency Departments, paediatric, orthopaedic, ambulance, and Maternity units. All share the need for fast, safe, and effective pain relief during short procedures, and equally a rapid wearing off of the effects when surgery or other clinical procedures are complete. The economics of using N2O also make it an attractive proposition for healthcare providers compared with other options. Consequently, nitrous oxide is widely used in healthcare facilities in many countries – including the UK, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Australia, New Zealand, the US, and France
One significant drawback of N2O, however, is its carbon footprint – with 1 kg of N2O equivalent to 298 kg of CO2. Nitrous oxide alone contributes 2% of the total NHS England carbon footprint, and 75% of its total anaesthetic gas footprint. As a result, the NHS has a publicly stated aim of reducing its nitrous oxide emissions by 75% as part of the service’s wider goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% within the next 7-11 years, and achieving ‘Net Zero’ by 2040.
A long-established form of pain relief
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