500 tonnes of carbon cut by NHS with greener inhalers

21st November 2022

People in Norfolk and Waveney who have swapped to more environmentally-friendly inhalers have collectively reduced their carbon footprint by 500 tonnes in five months, the equivalent of 8,650 people flying from London to Paris.  

With COP27 coming to a close last week and the climate crisis high on the agenda globally, people are looking to the small changes they can do to make a difference. Green inhalers offer patients the chance to use a more climate conscious version of their everyday respiratory medication. 

NHS Norfolk and Waveney promotes the use of dry powder inhalers (DPI) instead of traditional metered dose inhalers (MDIs) for respiratory conditions such as asthma and COPD.

This is because evidence shows that many people will be able to achieve the same benefit from using a DPI, which is much kinder to the environment than a MDIs as it does not use powerful greenhouse gases to propel the medication into the patient’s lungs.

As a result, greener inhalers have an estimated carbon footprint equivalent of just 20g per dose compared with 500g for MDIs.

Michael Dennis, Associate Director of Pharmacy and Medicines Optimisation at NHS Norfolk and Waveney, said: “As one of the top ten largest employers in the world, contributing almost 5% of UK carbon emissions, the NHS has a real opportunity, responsibility, and interest in tackling climate change. We are committed to reducing carbon emissions and improving the sustainability of operations that will help to improve health and care for people now, and in the future.

“This particular initiative has proved popular with our patients as most people are prepared to make small changes if it helps the environment. Cutting carbon emissions is good news for everyone, especially those with respiratory conditions.”

Tracey Bleakley Chief Executive Officer for NHS Norfolk and Waveney who has had asthma for over 30 years, said: “I was shocked to understand the environmental impact of my inhalers. The carbon emissions caused by medication isn’t something you would usually consider so it’s important we raise awareness. I will be supporting this campaign and hope to discuss my suitability to change inhalers with my doctor.”  

Norfolk GP Dr Andy Douglass, said: “People who use inhalers who are interested in making the switch should discuss this at their next routine respiratory review appointment to make sure it is the right choice for them. Patients who are suitable and opt to change to a greener inhaler will be provided with training on how to use it.”

Tony Dean, Chief Officer with the Norfolk Local Pharmaceutical Committee, added: “Our community pharmacists and their teams are ideally placed to work closely with our GP practices to support patients with any agreed changes to their inhaled medication. This includes helping patients understand how a different inhaler type works and how to get the best out of it, with structured follow-up to help make sure any questions or concerns are answered.

“This is another great example of how our pharmacies are working in an increasingly integrated way with our primary care colleagues for the benefit of our patients.”

This comes as the Norfolk and Waveney Integrated Care System published its Green Plan this month outlining the aims and actions partners across the system will take to meet the NHS’ ambition to reach Net Zero by 2045.

The plan focusses on:

  • Medicines, medical equipment, and other areas of the supply chain such as construction and freight, and food and catering
  • The carbon footprint from our buildings and materials
  • Personal travel (including patient and staff travel, as well as visitors)
  • Commissioned health and care services.

The NHS is also urging patients to return their used inhalers to their pharmacy or GP practice dispensary for environmentally safe disposal or recycling.