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We Are Taking Action For Our Health!

Through funding from The National Lottery, via Can Do South Yorkshire, GPs and students were supported to evaluate the environmental practices of GPs in South Yorkshire, and implement new ideas.

Medics protesting for the climate holding a sign saying 'climate change is a health crisis'

At Can Do South Yorkshire, we love sharing the stories of our partner organisations, to celebrate their successes and inspire you to take climate action.

What they’ve been up to: Collaboration between students and GPs

The NHS contributes 5.4% of annual CO2 emissions in the UK, so reducing its carbon emissions could have a huge impact on the UK’s climate targets overall. The Green Impact for Health Toolkit supports GPs in simple carbon-reducing (and often money-saving) action points.

Through funding from The National Lottery, via Can Do South Yorkshire, GPs and students were supported to evaluate the environmental practices of GPs in South Yorkshire, and implement new ideas. Students can also educate practices about the climate and ecological emergency, and tick off simple action points with the help of action packs, which the students develop over their year of study.

At one GP practice in Sheffield, medical student Winona, supported by Dr Honey Smith, Chair of Greener Practice, introduced a series of environmentally-friendly measures to the practice, including the following.

  • A cup of tea or coffee is essential when working at a GP practice, but overboiling the kettle can waste a lot of energy and water! Winona put up posters encouraging people to only fill the kettle with the amount of water they actually need, to save energy and money.
  • Travelling to the GP practice, whether as a staff member or patient, can be done in a more environmentally friendly way. Bus timetables were added to the GP practice’s website, to make it easier for people to make greener travel choices. Active travel was also encouraged by the practice. 
  • Dr Honey Smith has provisionally been offered funding to set up a community garden at the GP practice. Gardening, and being outdoors, has been shown to have positive mental health benefits, and eating more fruit and vegetables is good for our health. Growing our own food also reduces emissions and plastic packaging. 
  • Asthma inhalers have a huge carbon burden, and excellence in asthma care is also low carbon care. Students, funded by this project, have helped practices across Sheffield to support excellent, low carbon asthma care, to the enormous benefit of patient health. In Dr Honey Smith’s practice, students have also supported reductions in the prescribing of medication that can lead to falls and cognitive problems. Reducing unnecessary or harmful prescribing is good for both patients and planet. 

Winona also offered recommendations for what the GP Practice could do next to improve its climate impact, based on the individual needs of the practice and the work they had already done.

Another student, Hannah Fligelstone, wrote public-facing and professional-facing leaflets on air pollution – its effects, and how to reduce exposure to air pollution by active travel and other solutions. 

The climate crisis is a health crisis!

The effects of the climate crisis are already negatively impacting our health, so it is important that we take action today on issues such as air pollution. The British Medical Association declared a climate emergency in 2019, and more than 200 health journals collectively called for urgent action on the climate crisis in 2021.

We know that climate action can improve health now. For example, active travel (such as cycling and walking) reduces air pollution and provides physical activity-related health benefits. Sustainable diets have the potential to reduce the risk of chronic disease, and spending more time outdoors and in nature has known mental and physical health benefits. In short, what’s good for our health is good for the planet too!

As the climate crisis worsens, we have already seen an increase in circumstances that can cause ill health. We can protect the health of future generations through mitigating health threats such as extreme weather events, heat stress, food shortage and poor air and water quality. The more we take care of our environment, the healthier our children and future generations can be.

The climate crisis disproportionately affects the poorest people in society, thus tackling it reduces health inequalities. For example, fuel poverty can cause a number of health issues. Living in a cold and damp home is a contributing factor to respiratory diseases, circulatory diseases and mental health problems. Making homes more energy efficient, and giving people access to locally-generated, renewable energy, would reduce these issues and have a positive climate impact.

Our hard-working doctors, nurses and other NHS workers also see benefits when we address climate change in GP practices and hospitals. Through improved patient health, workload and costs are reduced, there could be reduced energy and resource use, and much more.

Greener Practice: Their story

In 2017, a group of concerned medical workers in South Yorkshire came together to form Greener Practice, a primary care climate and sustainability network. The network includes GPs, medical students and other primary care workers. Since 2017, Greener Practice has grown into a national network leading the way for GP practices to decarbonise. They are also supporting other local Greener Practice groups across the UK, sharing the knowledge and expertise they have developed over the years.

Final thoughts and future plans

Dr Honey Smith, Chair of Greener Practice, said, ‘’We are really pleased with the progress we have made, and we have at least 4 more students working with us through the autumn and a number of new practices signed up to host a student to do this work for them.’’ 

Have you been inspired to take climate action in your workplace? Share your story on social media using the hashtag #candosouthyorkshire, or get in touch with us via our contact form in the footer below.