GPs can apply learning from COVID-19 pandemic to fight climate emergency

GPs can apply learning from the COVID-19 response to help fight the climate emergency and the pandemic offers the chance to ‘build back better’, experts have told the RCGP annual conference.

Dr Aarti Bansal chair of Greener Practice
Dr Aarti Bansal chair of Greener Practice

Delivering a session on how general practice can become carbon neutral, representatives of the RCGP’s Sustainability, Climate Change and Green Issues group said that medicine could no longer ignore the climate emergency . They argued that the events of the last two years presented an opportunity to optimise health and wellbeing.

Sheffield GP Dr Aarti Bansal, founder of the Greener Practice group, said some of the lessons learned during the pandemic were transferable to help general practice fight the climate emergency.

She said: ‘One of the lessons we have learned is that we can transform quickly. We've also learned that individual choices impact collective health, and that's just as important in terms of our choices that we're making every day from a green perspective as it has been in terms of whether or not we should be wearing a mask or whether we should be getting vaccinated.

Climate emergency

‘So some of the problems that we've had in dealing with the climate emergency is this idea of thinking differently, how do we think differently. Well, actually we've had this crisis imposed on us through COVID-19 and we've transformed.’

The RCGP declared a climate emergency two years ago after a motion was passed to commit to taking action. Former RCGP president Dr Terry Kemple, who co-led the session, suggested that remote consultation could help practices to reduce their carbon footprint.

He said: ‘It is quite amusing when you consider the announcement yesterday [about emergency funds to boost face-to-face appointments]. After emissions from inhalers, the next big thing practices can work on is staff and patient travel - those are the next big things we need to reduce.’

Dr Bansal added that it was important doctors continued to discuss the climate emergency, and urged people to join local networks.

She said: ‘One of the most important things you can do to fight climate change is to talk about it. We're all sitting there on our own worrying about it, thinking nobody else is worried, but actually if we all talked and recognised that we're all worried about it, it would become easier to bring this into conversation.’

Sustainable healthcare

Later in the conference during the Question Time session Dr Bansal explained sustainable clinical healthcare was the same as evidence-based practice.

She said: 'There's two ways to get sustainable healthcare one is to reduce the activity of healthcare, and the other one is to make it efficient, and as low cost as possible. But actually, probably the bigger bang for your buck is reducing healthcare activity – and that is all the stuff we do that is preventative.'

Dr Bansal said that if primary care could get additional investment to deliver sustainable healthcare in order to help the UK reach 'net zero' it would help GPs 'to achieve all those other things that we want to do', such as tackling inequalities and improving continuity of care.

GPonline reported last month that staff at a PCN in Cornwall had committed to reducing their carbon emissions and operating more sustainably by using a fleet of electric cars to carry out day-to-day operations.

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