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The UK's primary care sustainability network

The Green Impact for Health Toolkit – what on earth is it?

12th January 2021

Dr Fran Cundill

A couple of years ago, I began to become increasingly aware of how we all need to make changes to reduce the negative impact we are having on the health of our planet. We looked at reducing our plastic use at home, bought an electric car and increased our walking/cycling commuting. However, one area that I felt I had little influence over was my work life. I recognised that the ways of working in GP were not very ‘eco-friendly’ at all, but I felt paralysed by the thought of where to start. Whilst doing some research online, I stumbled across the RCGP Green Impact for Health Toolkit. I thought it looked like a great place for inspiration, ideas and support.

The toolkit is basically a checklist with criteria covering all areas of general practice, including clinical, management and admin. I began looking through the different criteria and filling in what I could. I emailed my practice and they were extremely supportive! The partners were all on board and the team were happy to make easy switches such as printing on both sides of the paper, getting recycling bins at work and promoting the local inhaler recycling scheme. It was made a lot easier for me as our practice is in a purpose-built building so already has a lot of the energy saving features in place. The first year we were awarded the bronze award which gave me the boost I needed to keep pursuing change.

The second year I had to work a little harder and initiate some more significant changes at the practice. I completed e-learning modules, liaised with our community support workers to identify patients vulnerable to fuel poverty and worked on sharing my increasing knowledge in this area with my colleagues.

The toolkit set up has changed this year (2020-2021) and is now split into different areas like water, prescribing etc. I think this will make it easier for those using it for the first time as they can just focus on making changes in one area at a time. When I started, it was a little overwhelming having to tackle prescribing, waste management, energy efficiency of the building and much more all in one go!

This year we are going for gold, although with the way 2020 has gone, it’s an ambitious aim! One barrier I find is that a lot of the information is to do with the management or admin side of the practice, like switching energy suppliers or introducing stock taking systems. The staff, especially this year, just don’t have the time to answer my emails regarding these things. My practice team are enthusiastic and encouraging, which really helps. I can imagine that if I were the only one at the practice trying to make changes it could be quite a challenge, and possibly demoralising. I think one of my top tips would to be to find just one like-minded person to talk to, having someone to bounce ideas off can be a lifeline when you are feeling like you are getting nowhere. I joined the Greener Practice group this year and have found it to be a really passionate, supportive group!