BMA sets out 10-point plan for carbon neutral general practice by 2030

General practice could become carbon neutral by the start of 2030 under a 10-point plan inspired partly by changes adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic, a BMA report suggests.

Reducing the carbon footprint of GP practices could contribute to tackling climate change, the report says - while improving patients' health, reducing GP workload and helping to control practice costs.

Doctors' leaders at the 2019 BMA annual representative meeting backed calls for the profession to 'campaign and co-operate to deliver carbon neutrality by 2030'.

A report published this week by the BMA - Sustainable and environmentally friendly general practice - sets out how general practice can reach this goal.

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Viewpoint: A greener approach to general practice can cut workload and save lives

Prescribing is estimated to account for 65-90% of the carbon footprint of general practice, the report says - and it sets out a string of measures to limit this.

Reducing inappropriate prescribing, more social prescribing and a switch to low-carbon inhalers could contribute significantly to reaching the target, it suggests. A 50% reduction in the carbon impact of inhalers through a large-scale switch to 'dry powder' inhalers alone could contribute 4% of the NHS carbon reduction target by 2030, the report says.

Labelling of medicines and better information for prescribers within practice IT systems on the carbon impact of different medications could help GPs choose the most environmentally friendly option where two drugs are equally suitable for the patient, the report suggests.

Investment in practice premises and infrastructure and better information on equipment used in primary care are another key step to helping practices cut their carbon footprint.

Carbon footprint

The report says that after prescribing is taken out of the equation, around half of the carbon footprint for general practice relates to travel for patients and staff. The rapid shift to more remote consultations during the coronavirus pandemic have shown that many patient contacts can be managed remotely, the report says - and learning lessons from this could help make general practice greener by limiting the need for people to travel to a GP surgery, at the same time as offering GPs more flexibility in working arrangements.

Around one in 10 GP practices are currently signed up with the Green Impact programme - a toolkit to help practices become more environmentally friendly - and the BMA is calling for support from the government and NHS England to develop the scheme further.

Writing in GPonline, BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'It’s clear that this is only the start and there is a lot of work to do in making general practice – and the wider NHS - truly environmentally friendly, but the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us what we’re capable of.

'Fundamentally this needs backing by government and so we, the NHS, and the government must now stay committed to reforming these elements of primary care, not only for the sake of our patients, but also the planet.'

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