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Sustainability: Ways to become a greener GP practice

With the NHS being responsible for 4% of the country’s carbon emissions (for comparison 5.9% of our carbon footprint relates to air travel), GP practices have the opportunity to lead the way in environmental sustainability and improve patient health.

Acting on climate change not only minimises future hazards, but also has an immediate influence on improving health, such as lowering fossil fuel consumption to reduce air pollution.

Many GP clinics want to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly, and if the entire practice team knows how action on climate change is critical to our health and welfare, you will be able to do a lot more. Healthcare is both affected by and contributes to the global warming crisis, and according to the Lancet, addressing climate change is "the biggest global health opportunity of the twenty-first century."

Primary care has long been hampered by a lack of resources and increasing demands on GPs as patients want more in terms of accessibility and service delivery. At the same time, a growing number of people are questioning the unsustainable link between our excessive consumption and the environment. These pressures are developing a new primary care agenda, one that prioritises sustainability.

NHS Plan for 'Net Zero'

The NHS Green Plan was created to support NHS England’s “Delivering a 'Net Zero' National Health Service” report, which was a comprehensive report providing a national-level framework for action on climate change and sustainability,  stating that 'every NHS organisation has an essential role to play in meeting this ambition.'

The NHS Green Plan shows how NHS organisations might develop a 'three-year strategy towards net-zero,' outlining significant areas of attention and some of the most significant sources of carbon emissions within the NHS as a starting point.

NHS Property Services have stated that they are working on a variety of measures for primary care providers to assist them to meet the net-zero objective, including;

  • increasing the number of smart meters to enhance data quality and billing accuracy
  • Providing biodiversity advice.
  • Identifying high-risk sites and ensuring they are fit for purpose as climate changes by mapping the long-term danger of climate change.
  • Developing Minimum Performance Standards and Specifications, which will allow sustainable projects to continue, such as LED installation as part of reactive maintenance, scheduled work, and bespoke energy initiatives.

Greener Ways

In order to achieve a target of net-zero, there needs to be a concerted effort from all healthcare providers to take action on climate change. For GPs, this means building a practice that will be able to continue to deliver high-quality care and implement a variety of modifications to make their services more sustainable:

Recognising your carbon footprint

A carbon footprint shows a person's/business’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Understanding your practice's carbon footprint can make it simpler to spot opportunities for improvement.

Prescribing and De-prescribing

According to the BMA's research on sustainable and environmentally friendly general practise, pharmaceutical prescribing accounts for 65-90 percent of general practice's carbon footprint.

The propellants in metered-dose inhalers (MDIs) are greenhouse gases, and are 1,000 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. These inhalers can make up nearly 4% of the NHS carbon footprint, while dry powder inhalers (DPI) are much lower, and can be just as effective for a similar cost.

Social Prescribing

There is growing evidence of the emotional and physical benefits of social prescribing and spending time in nature. ‘Green prescribing’ combines these advantages by directing patients to social activities that include spending time in nature, such as gardening and guided walks.

Patients can get community assistance through social prescribing, which allows them to participate in a variety of activities often provided by volunteer and community sector organisations.

Reducing energy consumption

It won’t have escaped anyone’s attention that the energy costs are at record highs, and as a result, being conscious of your energy use is more important than ever (you might want to consider using a comparison site to guide a switch to a 100% renewable tariff).

Aside from simple energy-saving measures like turning off lights when leaving a room, it's also critical to consider sustainability while making decisions, such as buying low-energy gadgets and remanufacturing old medical devices.

Work at primary care network (PCN) level

Funds invested at the PCN level can be used to develop projects and support initiatives to promote practice savings and encourage co-operation between practices, but also less conventional green benefits such as sponsoring or promoting local initiatives like recycling, group discounts for providers of renewable energy to several practices in a PCN, social practices like creating green spaces for local gardening schemes and many others.

Supporting Staff Wellbeing

The Practice’s work has an impact on not just the environment, but the welfare and wellbeing of practice staff. Being able to provide an effective way of balancing the business and people needs in the workplace can benefit your sustainability efforts, such as promoting healthy eating, a flexible working policy, physical activity (e.g. park runs, walking meetings)

Want to know more?

You can check your personal carbon footprint at the following link using the WWF’s calculator. Small businesses can try this carbon footprint calculator, or visit the Energy Saving Trust. To find out more about The Green Practice Network, email greenerpractice@gmail.com


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