GP practices can be 'more ambitious' on tackling climate change

GP practices can be more ambitious in taking steps to tackle climate change than the NHS as a whole - benefitting from their smaller scale to implement quick changes, a GP sustainability expert has said.

Renewable energy
Renewable energy (Photo: Mint Images/Getty Images)

Speaking at the RCGP annual conference in London, hosted with the World Organisation for Family Doctors Europe (WONCA Europe), Yorkshire GP Dr Matt Sawyer said that while NHS-wide targets focused on a zero-emission health service by 2045, GP practices could move faster.

National plans for a 'Greener NHS' were predominantly secondary care-focused, Dr Sawyer told the conference - and primary care could and should set its own shorter-term targets.

'We in primary care can be more ambitious,' he said. 'We are fleet of foot, with smaller structures.'

Zero carbon

He said it was feasible for individual practices to set themselves a target of reducing fossil fuel use to zero by as soon as 2025 - stopping use of methane gas, and switching all their energy use to sustainable sources.

If practices look at their current energy use and understand the emissions they are responsible for across clinical and non-clinical domains, they can break it down and set manageable targets, Dr Sawyer told the conference.

He said changes could be achieved by working with patients, staff and suppliers. He said that practices could uncover potential environmentally friendly changes they could make easily through simple conversations with their staff - pointing to a practice that had multiple staff who lived near each other and all travelled separately to work.

Talking to the staff revealed that slight differences in shift patterns meant they travelled separately because their start times at work were different - and changing the shifts enabled the staff to travel together, improve morale and cut carbon emissions.

Emissions

Dr Sawyer pointed to freely available tools practices could use to understand their emissions - highlighting a carbon calculator and a carbon footprint table published by GPonline's sister website MIMS that supports green inhaler prescribing. He urged practices to speak to others about plans to decarbonise, to look at improving stock control to reduce waste and to sign up for carbon literacy training.

The Yorkshire GP said some practices may think that at a time when workload is at an unprecedented level in primary care, taking on additional work to become more environmentally friendly would be too much - but he argued that the change was not about more work, but working differently.

But he said that more than a third of GP practices' emissions were non-clinical and that in the same way as doctors complete CPD regularly to improve their knowledge and skills, taking on board changes to reduce their carbon footprint was acheivable.

'We still travel to practices, heat our buildings, deliver high quality healthcare - but we do it with less impact on the environment,' he said.

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