Switching patients’ inhalers to cheaper brands that contain fewer greenhouse gases could lead to huge financial savings and a reduction in the UK’s carbon footprint, according to research recently published in the British Medical Journal.
The study, published this week in BMJ Open, collated data on prescriptions in England and carbon footprint data for inhalers. Metered-dose inhalers contain greenhouse gases as a propellant and therefore have a high global warming potential (GWP). Switching patients to low GWP inhalers, such as dry powder inhalers (DPIs), would lead to ‘substantial carbon savings’ according to this study. In cases where DPIs aren’t advised for the patient, it is still possible to reduce their carbon footprint by switching them to low volume instead of larger volume inhalers.
'The gases within these canisters are such powerful greenhouse gases that they can contribute significantly to an individual's carbon footprint and if you are using one or two of these inhalers every month, then that can really add up to hundreds of kilos of carbon dioxide equivalent over the course of a year, which is similar to other actions that people are keen to take to reduce their carbon footprint such as going vegetarian,' said Dr Alex Wilkinson, the lead researcher on the study.
Earlier this year, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence released guidance designed to help patients identify inhalers that suit their needs and reduce their carbon footprint. They also encourage all patients with inhalers to return used inhalers to pharmacies for proper recycling.
Simon Stevens, NHS Chief Executive, has said that ‘the NHS has already cut its carbon footprint by one fifth in the past decade and giving patients the option to, where clinically appropriate, shift to lower carbon ‘green’ inhalers as set out in the Long Term Plan is not only the right thing for them but also the planet’.
Patients should be encouraged to speak with a healthcare professional if they are concerned about the environmental impact of their prescribed inhaler and should continue to use their inhaler as prescribed until they have sought the advice of a professional.