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The rise of the green general practice

BMJ 2021; 372 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m4827 (Published 02 February 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;372:m4827
  1. Jessica Powell, freelance journalist
  1. Devon, UK
  1. jessicapowell.freelance{at}googlemail.com

Jessica Powell meets the doctors and their staff who are practising what they preach when it comes to environmental initiatives to protect the planet—and their patients

If you think of a climate crusader you might picture someone chained to a tree or touting a placard. But there’s a new activist in town: the local GP. With the NHS having committed to reaching a net zero carbon footprint by 2040,1 many general practices around the UK are already using their position at the heart of communities, and their huge reach, to lead the charge.

Last year the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) declared a climate emergency and highlighted “the catastrophic effect on human health of not acting decisively and urgently on climate change.”2 Terry Kemple, RCGP representative for sustainability, climate change, and green issues, says, “We’re not talking about if there will be climate change—we’re talking about how bad it’s going to be. If we’re concerned with the health of our patients, it’s not something any rational person can ignore.”

And a growing number of GPs don’t need convincing. Well before the RCGP declaration, general practices throughout the UK were working to decarbonise. In 2014 the Green Impact for Health Toolkit was launched by Kemple and colleagues,3 giving GPs practical steps for going greener, and over 750 practices have signed up so far. Then in 2017 Aarti Bansal, a Sheffield based GP, founded the Greener Practice group: a network of GPs, medical students, and others aiming to help general practices take action to benefit people and the planet.4 (See box: Three ways to grow a greener practice.)

For GPs engaged in the green mission, the health effects of an unhealthy planet are obvious: an increase in heatwaves (which killed nearly 900 people in England alone last …

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