Sustainable development, climate change and green issues

RCGP and the Climate Emergency

The RCGP acknowledges the climate crisis, the catastrophic effect on human health of not acting decisively and urgently on climate change. The College accepts its duty to provide leadership, and urgently escalate its action at local, regional, and national level to decarbonise and promote environmental sustainability (RCGP council motion, September 2019). 

The Role of GPs

Clinical practice

As the majority of primary care’s carbon emissions come from clinical practice (admissions, referrals, investigations, prescribing), there is substantial alignment between low-carbon and high-quality clinical practice. Examples include:

  • Prevention of ill-health (e.g. action on fuel poverty, health inequalities, social prescribing, nature-based interventions, sustainable diets and active travel),
  • Reducing iatrogenic harm and waste (e.g. reducing harmful polypharmacy, collaborative care plans to prevent unplanned admissions, reducing overdiagnosis)
  • Patient empowerment and self-management (e.g. shared decisions making, improving self-management of long-term conditions)
  • Low-carbon prescribing (e.g. using DPI inhalers where appropriate)

Example and advocacy

Doctors and other health care professionals can provide a powerful example to others in reducing carbon emissions and promoting and advocating for a healthy, sustainable future.

RCGP Climate Networks

The RCGP Climate Emergency Advisory Group (CEAG) is a Google discussion group that is open to members to join. There are also Climate and Sustainability Leads in an increasing number of the RCGP faculties who support regional efforts to support environmentally friendly practice. If you want to contribute to these groups, please contact your local faculty or Terry Kemple who is the RCGP’s representative for Sustainability, Climate Change and Green Issues.

The Green Impact for Health (GIFH) Toolkit

The free online toolkit lists over 100 actions that can improve the environmental sustainability and quality of general practice as well as saving money. Many of the strategies that mitigate carbon dioxide production also benefit health (e.g. more active travel lessens air pollution). Developed by the RCGP using the NUS/SOS Green Impact web platform, the toolkit answers the question ‘What can I do about this in my practice?’  It gives the reason for the suggested actions and tips about how to make the change. It is being used by over 750 General Practices across the country.

You can access and test drive the toolkit on the website using the login with the password testtoolkit.

Check your personal carbon footprint

You can use:

Check your practice’s carbon footprint

Which other groups can help?

Greener Practice are a network hub for those working in general practice to raise awareness of the health benefits of climate action and to support practical action. Their website acts as a one-stop shop for general practices wishing to become greener, with links to information, resources and practical tools. They also run webinars which are available as CPD resources.

UK Health Alliance for Climate Change (UKHACC). The RCGP is a founding member of the UKHACC. It brings together doctors, nurses and other health professionals to advocate for responses to climate change that protect and promote public health. The Alliance coordinates action, provides leadership and helps amplify the voices of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals across the UK.

Sustainable Development Unit (SDU) in Cambridge works on behalf of the health and care system in England. It supports the NHS, public health and social care to embed and promote the three elements of sustainable development - environmental, social and financial.  The Unit is funded by NHS England and Public Health England to ensure that the health and care system fulfils its potential as a leading sustainable and low carbon service. 

Centre for Sustainable Healthcare (CSH) is a charity based in Oxford working on sustainable healthcare in research and practice. It provides strategic input and consultancy to national and local programmes. There is a network for Primary Care with lots of resources as well as a forum for discussion.

World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA) has a Working Party on the Environment that fosters the role of family doctors in protecting the health of their patients and communities from the impacts of environmental hazards and environmental degradation, and to promote healthy and sustainable societies at the local and global level. Family Doctors from every region of the world are engaging in planetary health within their local and global communities. The Working Party always welcomes new members.

Planetary Health Alliance is a consortium of over 200 dedicated universities, NGOs, government entities, research institutes, and other partners around the world committed to advancing planetary health.

Climate change information and resources for GPs

Every weekday morning, Carbon Brief sends out a free email digest of the past 24 hours of media coverage related to climate change and energy, as well as their pick of the key studies published in the peer-reviewed journals.

Lancet Countdown tracks Progress on Health and Climate Change and is an international research collaboration, that tracks the world's response to climate change, and the health benefits that emerge from this transition.

The BMA  have updated their report Sustainable and environmentally friendly general practice which includes ways in which GP practices can develop, and can be helped to develop, environmentally responsible practices, as part of the campaign for carbon neutrality.

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