RCGP Scotland’s Joint Chairs prioritise climate action during COP26

The Royal College of General Practitioners in Scotland is calling for urgent action on climate change to improve the health of people across the country.

Joint Chairs of the College - which represents a network of around 5,000 GPs in Scotland - have selected tackling climate change and improving sustainability within general practice as one of their key priorities for their term of office.

They are now calling for health boards to implement support for sustainable prescribing locally and low-carbon inhalers. Leaders at the College say achieving larger scale projects such as e-prescribing will take efforts from multiple organisations, adding that the entire nation will have a part to play in reducing waste and unnecessary journeys that cause vehicle emissions.

Speaking as the COP26 global climate conference gets underway in Glasgow, Dr Chris Williams, one of the Joint Chairs of the College, said transformational action must be taken, otherwise the health of the nation would be "dire.

"Without making some very wide-scale changes to how we deliver healthcare, we are not going to ensure that our health service can achieve Net Zero emissions by 2045. Failure to change our course towards that will lead to a terrible destination," warned Dr Williams, a practising GP based in Grantown-On-Spey.

"If we don't take action now then the health of people across the country will be dire. Air quality is something that we take for granted, but this will also plummet as the climate changes. Some asthma inhalers use propellants that we now know can damage the environment in far worse ways than we'd previously imagined. We can switch many people to low global warming potential medications, such as dry powder inhalers, with the same clinical effects and avoid environmental damage whilst vastly improving people's health.

"We need to use less and recycle more, although we are very much aware that this will present challenges in general practice. In terms of medications, we really need a new system for people to return unused medicines and for ways of these to be disposed of safely so that they don't enter our living environment."

Dr David Shackles, Joint Chair of RCGP Scotland, said that, "by upgrading digital solutions for patient appointments, such as revolutionary video technology, this will help to reduce daily travel. This will in turn minimise unnecessary CO2 emissions."

"Many GPs feel that the current models of prescribing are disjointed and need to be urgently replaced with a paperless, e-prescribing system. Through this, data can be easily shared between GPs, pharmacy and secondary care teams."

Dr Shackles, a Tayside-based GP explained: "By implementing changes to the healthcare system, such as e-prescribing, we can reduce the use of paper and the need to travel, to create a much smaller carbon footprint.

"Implementing e-prescribing would revolutionise the clinical and patient experience. It would help to save time and resources and improve the patient experience. It would also end the use of outdated and environmentally damaging paper prescriptions.

"The Scottish Government have stated that it is their intention to ensure that NHS Scotland achieves its commitment to being a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions organisation by 2045, at the latest.

"General practice sits at the heart of communities across the nation and we will play a key role in helping to ensure that our NHS can reach this ambitious, but necessary, target. We need to be leading change on the ground to demonstrate to our patients that change is possible and we are committed to doing so."

The College, who have also helped to develop a Green Impact Toolkit for GPs to become greener, have joined in unity with other medical bodies to urge the Scottish Government to do more to reduce the carbon footprint of the NHS.

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties in Scotland (The Scottish Academy) said climate change is a global public health issue and therefore ¬professionals -working in the sector should be leading the way by making the NHS more environmentally friendly.

Dr Chris Williams continued: "We're obviously pleased that the Scottish Government is planning on publishing an action plan for reaching Net Zero Emissions in NHS Scotland by 2045. RCGP Scotland stands ready to take responsibility and be named in this plan as an organisation that has a role to play in helping and supporting the climate and sustainability agenda.

"With COP26 happening on our doorstep, taking action against the climate crisis has become one of the most important contributions to our society in decades. As GPs we are committed to helping society adjust to the greatest health challenge that we face."

Further information

(For Media only)

Media requests to Lisa Boyle, Communications Officer.

Tel: 07388 388 260. Lisa.Boyle@rcgp.org.uk

Notes to editor

  1. RCGP Scotland represents a network of around 5,000 doctors in Scotland aiming to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standard of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on resources, education, training, research and clinical standards.
  2. Further information on the Scottish Government's Net Zero by 2045 commitment can be found on the Scottish Government website.