Healthy Planet, Healthy People

Climate change underpins all the social and environmental determinants of health and so the Climate emergency is a health emergency. However, action on the climate emergency also has huge benefits to patient health.

The 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change emphasised that the response to climate change could be “the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.”

The NHS is a huge contributor to carbon emissions; The Guardian reported that 5.4% of the UK’s carbon emissions are from the NHS. This is equivalent to all the planes taking off from Heathrow in an average year.

The majority of General Practice’s carbon footprint comes from prescribing (see below) and so our greatest impact is through our core clinical work. The clinical actions that reduce our carbon footprint are aligned with our existing health priorities and evidence-based, person-centred practice. By supporting health and wellbeing through for example, nature-based interventions, social prescribing, de-prescribing where appropriate and low-carbon prescribing, we can significantly reduce our carbon footprint and promote patient health. Person-centred medicine, which works in collaboration with patients and others on what matters to them, is likely to lead to improve patient empowerment and self-care. Active travel will reduce air pollution, improve staff and patient health and reduce carbon. Greener practice can deliver win-win solutions for patients and the planet.

The Greener Practice:

  1. Improves health now - e.g. Active travel reduces air pollution and provides physical activity related health benefits. Sustainable diets reduce chronic disease. Time in nature through green prescribing has known mental and physical health benefits.
  2. Protects future health - e.g. through mitigating health threats from the climate crisis such as extreme weather events, heat stress, vector-borne disease, food shortage, air and water quality etc.
  3. Reduces health inequalities - The climate crisis disproportionately affects the poorest in society and so addressing it reduces this impact. Addressing fuel poverty is an example of where health inequalities and climate change are simultaneously addressed. Another example is through supporting community resilience.
  4. Improves workload and costs - e.g. through improved patient health, reduced prescribing/procurement costs, reduced energy use.​​​​ 
  5. Tests, treatments and procedures - are not always necessary and can do more harm than good. An obvious example is antibiotics for a cold.

The following video has a fun way of explaining this.

(Choosing Wisely - a parody of the infectious Pharrell Williams song "Happy”)

Also sometimes when people are on lots of medications this can lead to harmful drug interactions and difficulty with talking the medications correctly.

Most of the carbon emissions in primary care come from our clinical care, so making sure that what we do is evidence-based, person-centred and free from harm is one of the most useful things we can to make sure healthcare is better for patients and planet.

The Choosing Wisely initiative encourages patients and doctors to have conversations to make shared decisions on investigations and treatments based on the best evidence and each individual’s circumstances and needs.

Green Impact for Health information – Haven Health is taking part in this important decarbonisation initiative and so have signed up to the Green Impact for heath toolkit


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