Climate and sustainability in Humber and the Ridings Faculty

27 April 2021

A bi-monthly blog post for RCGP Humber and the Ridings to share information, ideas and stories relating to our responses to the climate emergency and how GPs and practices can reduce our environmental impact and the possible health consequences. Contributions welcome!  

Climate change threatens to undermine the past 50 years of gains in public health, but the Lancet Commission concluded a comprehensive response to climate change could be “the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century” (Lancet Commission on Health & Climate Change 2015).

Why the apparent contradiction? Why does this matter for the RCGP and for GPs?

As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic how do GPs respond to the more profound threat caused by global heating – a change recognised by the RCGP as causing a “climate emergency” which threatens to increase extreme weather events, crop failures, heat related deaths and the social unrest driven by climate related migration.

The Lancet Commission (above) was trying to highlight that any positive changes we achieve with our patients or communities which reduce carbon emissions are the very changes providing other co-benefits to health. For example, more active travel (walking/cycling/public transport) reduces carbon emissions and pollution but also air pollution, car-related deaths and fights obesity, dementia, depression, diabetes. Better insulation in our homes reduces carbon emissions and heat waste, but also fuel costs and respiratory diseases linked to damp housing. Moving towards more plant-based diets are good for the planet (less carbon emission, less deforestation, less water use, more space for wildlife) but also are better for our health and our patients’ health (less GI cancers, less diabetes, less cardiovascular disease).

Who is doing what to promote co-benefits to health and the planet in Yorkshire and nationally? Who can support you if you are interested in this important area?

RCGP Climate Emergency Action Group (CEAG)

Each RCGP Faculty has a Climate and Sustainability Lead. We meet approximately monthly to help the RCGP to respond to the climate crisis and mitigate the effects to health. Current national work of the group includes two major areas in recent months:

First: the drive to move towards greener prescribing, and specifically encouraging patients with asthma to move where possible to more sustainable Dry Powder Inhalers (DPIs) from environmentally harmful metered dose inhalers (MDIs) - whose propellants have 1000 times the greenhouse gas equivalent to carbon dioxide and are responsible for 4% of all NHS carbon emissions.  Better asthma care is greener asthma care. A good care plan and good care will lead to less inhalers and relievers being needed. However, most patients can safely swap to DPIs and a new guide supported by RCGP CEAG group highlights this: see Asthma care and Inhalers — Greener Practice for more details.

Second: the challenge caused by the huge environmental impact caused of increased personal protective equipment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic e.g. plastic waste, disposable masks, disposable aprons and plastic gloves. RCGP CEAG members have been debating and promoting where possible environmentally friendly alternatives (e.g. washable face masks) and rationalising disposable glove and apron use. Do low risk patient encounters in GP practices really need aprons and gloves?

Dr Rumina Onac – a York based GP & RCGP member – has started to lead the local fightback against this waste. See Rumina’s excellent blog and environmental videos at The Greening of Life or check out her regular environmentally-themed posts on Instagram and twitter @GreenlifeGP

Green Impact for Health (GIFH)

Have you signed up to Green Impact for Health yet? This is a great audit tool, supported by the RCGP and useful as a benchmark for activity to make your practice greener but also a great resource for audit work for GP Registrars or to impress the CQC! The NHS is due to be Carbon Net Zero by 2040. GIFH allows you to start doing your bit towards that transformational challenge.

Many areas have Greener Practice or GIFH support groups. Contact me via RCGP Faculty Admin if you are interested in finding one in your area.

Support for Greener Practitioners and Greener Practice

The Greener Practice Group in Sheffield have been busy inspiring and networking and are now going national. See the Greener Practice Group website, which has excellent resources to drive change for your colleagues, practice and patients. National Greener Practice is now being launched, with an aim to support practices to reduce their carbon footprint, support good environmentally sustainable care for our patients and move towards a net zero carbon NHS by 2040.

MEDACT: Inspiration for medical students, GPRs and established GPs

Medact supports health professionals to work “towards a world in which everyone can truly achieve and exercise their human right to health.” The charity supports research and evidence-based campaigning for solutions to the social, political and economic conditions which damage health, deepen health inequalities and threaten peace and security. One of the fields of work supported is Climate and Environment.

Medact YorkshireMedact Leeds and Medact Sheffield are the local groups working at present on the Health and the Green New Deal campaign (Leeds), Access to Healthcare and ending the Hostile Environment (Sheffield) and Fossil Fuel Divestment (Yorkshire). They will jointly be hosting a Yorkshire-based webinar on Climate and Health soon. By contacting one of the groups above you will be kept in touch with this and other activities. New members are always welcome.

Thanks to Dr Margaret Jackson, GP Sleights & Sandsend & Chair, Medact Yorkshire.

Post written by

Dr David Pearson

RCGP Humber & Ridings Faculty, Climate and Sustainability Lead.

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