July 22, 2024

Health Minds

Nourishing Minds, Elevating Health

How to make your practice more eco-friendly

5 min read
Eco recycling and sustainable technology to reduce and neutralize environmental pollution

Making your practice greener may seem like a mammoth task, but it doesn’t have to be – Dr Vasumathy Sivarajasingam gives her 12 top tips on adopting more eco-friendly and sustainable practices in primary care

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Medscape UK

Climate change is recognised by many as the biggest global public health threat of the 21st century.

If the global healthcare system was considered a separate country, it would be the fifth-largest emitter on the planet. With this in mind, let’s take a look at how you can make your practice greener.

Calculate your practice’s carbon footprint

An easy first step would be to use the free GP carbon calculator tool to calculate the practice’s nonclinical carbon emissions, in order to have a baseline from which to measure changes and move towards net-zero emissions.

This may help practices to identify and work out a plan for targeting and reducing key sources of emissions—such as by reducing unnecessary travel, using electronic systems instead of paperwork, changing lightbulbs to light-emitting diode equivalents, installing smart meters or double-glazed windows, or turning off monitors when not in use.

Sign up to the Green Impact for Health and Greener Practice websites

The Green Impact for Health toolkit, developed by Students Organising for Sustainability and funded by the RCGP, is a free-to-use online resource for practices that offers simple, practical tips on delivering sustainable healthcare. 

The toolkit suggests activities and actions that a practice can undertake to improve its sustainability and environmental impact, and it can be used by staff or volunteers—be they formal volunteers, patient participation group members, students, or willing friends or family.

Advertise that your practice is ‘going greener’

Transparency about a practice aiming to be more sustainable would likely help patients, staff, and other stakeholders to understand the practice’s values and goals.

Practice management may benefit from developing climate and health initiatives in cooperation with the patient population and implementing environmental policies that also prioritise staff health and wellbeing.

Raise staff awareness and offer training on sustainable healthcare

The climate crisis is everyone’s responsibility, and everyone has a role in preventing climate change. Practices may therefore gain from including their green agenda as a recurring item in staff and clinical meetings, encouraging staff to share their experiences and offer suggestions on improving the practice’s carbon footprint.

This could be part of a wider effort to consider sustainable healthcare regularly, with further actions including the following:

  • Nominating green champions, who will attend external meetings and share knowledge with the wider practice team
  • Engaging with the multidisciplinary team and other stakeholders (for example, the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme team and the social care, community, and voluntary sectors)

Review prescribing habits, and offer low-carbon alternatives when possible

Medicines play a key role in the prevention, treatment, and management of most conditions. However, estimates suggest that 65–90% of the carbon footprint of general practice is associated with pharmaceutical prescribing.

Overprescribing and pharmaceutical wastage can have a negative impact on patient wellbeing, healthcare expenditure, and a practice’s carbon footprint. Where possible, they should be avoided.

Preventative care

In general, and where appropriate, clinicians can also try to implement preventative care (as opposed to reactive care), discussing with patients whether they are able to incorporate lifestyle changes in the first instance so as to limit unnecessary medication use.

Promoting self-care practices

Clinicians can also emphasise the importance of self-care practices as part of daily living and recommend managing self-limiting minor ailments with over-the-counter medications.

These kinds of self-management interventions for long-term issues will not only reduce needless practice visits, but also minimise the costs of overprescribing and medical interventions.

Reduce the carbon footprint of inhaler prescribing

Inhalers are one area in which a change in prescribing can have a significant effect on carbon emissions, particularly considering that carbon emissions from inhalers account for approximately three per cent of all NHS carbon emissions.

You could try switching to dry-powder inhalers (DPIs), reducing the amount the pMDI is used, or switching to lower-carbon inhalers.

Empower patients to take action for the climate and for their health

According to a 2021 Ipsos MORI survey of 1858 UK adults, the public considers climate change to be a huge threat to their health but fails to identify the role of the NHS as a major contributor of emissions.

It is important that clinicians take the opportunity to make the appropriate connections between health problems and climate change during consultations.

Reduce unnecessary visits to the practice

The NHS long term plan commits to delivering high-quality patient care while also reducing health inequalities and carbon emissions. Some simple measures in this area can also reduce costs, travel time, and unnecessary healthcare appointments.

Recommend active travel for staff

A simple step clinicians can take towards a more sustainable practice is to encourage staff to walk or cycle to work, or to share cars when possible. Moving away from cars and towards cycling, walking, and public transport decreases air pollution and improves physical activity.

Employees can join the Government-supported Cycle to Work Scheme, and practices may wish to install bike lockers and changing facilities if required, as well as electric vehicle charging points for cars and bikes.

Signing up to the Active Practice Charter can also help the practice to become one of a national network of practices making positive changes in staff and patient welfare.

Implement the ‘Five Rs’ of waste management

One fundamental improvement would be to incorporate the ‘Five Rs’ (refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle) at the practice—to minimise landfill waste and reduce carbon emissions.

Inspire your team to help with SusQI projects

In 2022, the RCGP curriculum introduced the principles of sustainable clinical practice into postgraduate training with the topic guide Population and planetary health, linking these principles to the core capabilities of Being a GP.

In light of this, the clinical team—including students, trainees, nurses, pharmacists, and GPs—will benefit from being involved in sustainable quality improvement projects (SusQI).

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