£500,000 loans for GPs to 'go green'

Exclusive - Green issues added to GP curriculum as loan deal and awards scheme revealed.

Dr Tim Ballard: We've been pushing on a lot of doors and all of a sudden they've started to open

Practices across the UK will be offered interest-free loans worth up to £500,000 to cut their carbon footprint, GP can reveal.

Under a deal between the RCGP and the Carbon Trust, practices will be offered the loans to invest in green improvements to premises.

The loans could pay for double glazing, replacing oil boilers with green technology such as air source heat pumps, or for more significant structural premises alterations.

The deal is part of an RCGP scheme to offer practices a 'green practice award' for using a tailor-made website to calculate their carbon footprint, and taking steps to lower it.

The college's sustainability lead Dr Tim Ballard told GP that the loans would be 'completely cost-neutral'.

'A practice could work out that it needs to invest £55,000 to make an improvement that will save that amount in heating bills over four years. The Carbon Trust will pay the cash to the practice, and it then makes repayments over that period.'

He said the website would be operational from early in 2010, after the Department of Energy and Climate Change offered funding. 'We've been pushing on a lot of doors, and all of a sudden they've started to open,' Dr Ballard said.

Practices will be able to enter data on the website on their use of utilities, business travel, commuting, and materials and waste. The web tool will then calculate their carbon footprint.

It will also highlight areas that the practice could address, and provide links to trusted firms and organisations that can help.

Paul Cooper, managing director of Best Foot Forward, the carbon footprinting firm designing the website, said it can be tailored to suit different types of practices, such as dispensers.

It will also allow practices to benchmark their carbon footprint against local practices, or practices of similar list size or other characteristics, he said.

Bob Senior, head of healthcare at accountancy firm Tenon, said investing in green improvements could help partners negate the impact of tax rises that take effect next year. He said GPs earning over £100,000 will effectively pay 61 per cent tax on the next £13,000, but investing could cut their taxable pay below this threshold.

Meanwhile, Dr Ballard told GP that sustainability would be added to the RCGP's core GP curriculum, so trainee GPs are tested on their understanding of the role health professionals can play in promoting green issues.

The college has also agreed with Severn Deanery to train five 'sustainability scholars'. These will be GP registrars who receive specific educational support and carry out project work on sustainability in primary care during an extra month of final-year training.

As part of the RCGP's drive to boost awareness of climate change, its 2010 conference theme will be 'sustainability in primary care'.

For more information on green issues, visit healthcarerepublic.com/greenGP

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