Healthcare leaders unite in calling for bold action to reduce the environmental harm caused by prescribing

Healthcare leaders from across Scotland have today issued a rallying call for bold action to reduce the environmental impact caused by medicine prescribing.

Medicines account for around 25% of carbon emissions in the NHS. If Scotland is to achieve net-zero, strategies for reducing carbon emissions from prescribing and medicines need to be tackled. Medicines also have an ecological impact when they get into our waste water system and are discharged into our rivers and oceans.

To ensure that prescribing is made more environmentally sustainable, the bodies representing healthcare professionals who prescribe have issued a joint statement calling for wide ranging action to be taken, by policymakers, education providers, NHS leaders and the pharmaceutical industry.

The statement, which has been signed by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties in Scotland, Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the Royal College of General Practitioners Scotland, calls for the following action to be taken:

  • We call on policymakers to enable a more sustainable approach to prescribing. This includes prioritising the introduction of electronic prescribing across the NHS, introducing the requirement for an environmental impact in NHS medicines procurement and improving the availability of data about the environmental impact of medicines.
  • We call on Scottish Government, including the Chief Medical Officer, to enable the delivery of a Realistic Medicine approach to prescribing by developing a supportive infrastructure for green social prescribing across Scotland.
  • We call on the pharmaceutical industry to make information about the environmental impact of medicines readily available in a standardised data format.
  • We call on the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN) and the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) to make information about the environmental impact of medicines available in their guidelines.
  • We call on education providers to support prescribers by including environmental sustainability in education and training for health professionals.
  • We call for fresh thinking and innovation within the NHS and NHS suppliers in areas such as reducing medicines waste, reducing the use of paper, plastics and unnecessary packaging, and increasing recycling.

The professional leadership bodies for prescribers also recognise their responsibility in supporting prescribers to reduce their environmental impact and in doing so, commit to encouraging prescribers to take a Realistic Medicine approach to prescribing by involving patients in prescribing decisions and reducing unnecessary prescribing, and also promoting the increasing use of green social prescribing initiatives.

Commenting on the publication of the joint statement, Dr David Shackles, Joint Chair of RCGP Scotland said:

“Radical action is required if Scotland is to reach its target of Net Zero and as individual prescribers, we have an important role to play in ensuring that our health service significantly reduces its carbon footprint.

“However, we can’t do this alone and we need to see bold action at a national level to embed the structures that will lead to change.

“The climate crisis is a public health crisis and as healthcare professionals we are committed and united in our calls for action. Our joint statement is a significant step forward and I very much look forward to engaging with the Scottish Government and others to make progress in this important area. This is essential if we are to achieve the very best outcomes for the health of our patients and the planet.”

Clare Morrison, RPS Director for Scotland, said:

“Health professionals in Scotland have chosen to come together to create a new national movement to reduce the environmental harm of prescribing and medicines use. Now we are calling on others to join us: Scottish Government, producers of NHS guidelines, the pharmaceutical industry, all health and care professionals, and of course patients. 

“Every one of us needs to take action to tackle climate change. What this joint statement demonstrates is how seriously we are taking the climate crisis: we can no longer assume someone else will take responsibility, we must all play our part. 

“As professional leadership bodies, we believe that by acting together and focusing on the key areas described in our statement, we can and we will make a difference that will contribute to net zero and reduce the ecological harm from medicines.

“We call on other health professional leadership bodies to join us and sign up to the joint statement.”

Further Information

Please contact Angus Gould
Policy and Public Relations Officer
07808 795493 for media requests

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 52,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.