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How a practice is engaging staff and patients in ‘green health’

A GP practice in Somerset has enlisted the services of a green health connector to promote and facilitate climate-friendly health choices among staff and patients.

Concept image of a hand clicking a reduce CO2 buttton on a screen
(Picture: NicoElNino/Getty Images)

Frome Medical Practice is a large GP surgery in Somerset with a longstanding interest in climate action and sustainability. 

The practice had already been involved in several initiatives aimed at reducing its carbon footprint and promoting sustainable travel. But its work around sustainability stepped up a gear in 2020 when the practice teamed up with community enterprise Frome Edventure and Frome City Council to set up a new initiative called ‘A Green and Healthy Future for Frome’. The scheme bid for and won National Lottery Climate Action funding to support a number of new initiatives.

The overall aim of the programme is to explore ways in which local people can live lives that are good for their health and good for the planet.

The council is involved in a project to create 'healthy homes', which aims to provide support for those on low incomes to improve the quality of their home and make it more energy efficient. As well as running a scheme that provides bicycles on loan to people who are considering taking up cycling. Meanwhile Frome Edventure is providing support to help get local green and healthy initiatives off the ground.

Frome Medical Practice has used its share of the funding to hire a ‘green health connector’ to engage patients and practice staff in the different ways they can live healthier lives while minimising their impact on the environment.

Charlotte Carson took on this role in 2021 and spends her time working with the local community and local businesses, as well as engaging with patients and staff. 

The aim is to help improve staff and patients’ ability to make ‘greener choices’ with their own health and wellbeing, with an emphasis on showing that greener choices can also be healthier choices.

What is a green health connector?

Ms Carson works alongside the practice's wider social prescribing team. Practice manager Karen Creffield describes this team as ‘a committed and passionate team who recognise the impact climate change has on health’.

‘This work has been possible due to the staff’s commitment and passion for sustainable healthcare,’ Ms Carson explains.

A key part of the practice’s involvement in A Green and Healthy Future for Frome is a new Choosing Wisely campaign, which is aiming to encourage healthy lifestyles, reduce unnecessary medicine use and reduce unnecessary testing.

This involves promoting the use of more environmentally inhalers and reducing over prescribing of medicines, in particular antidepressants and blood pressure medication.

Ms Carson has also set up a local monthly Talking Cafe, situated in a ‘green setting’ which is designed to encourage conversation in the community about health and sustainability. In addition there is a programme aimed at encouraging local people to become green community connectors.

Green community connector training

This involves short one-hour sessions, which Ms Carson conducts remotely as well as in person, and explore how people can take steps to have a positive impact upon the planet, their own and other people’s wellbeing.

With over 100 green community connectors trained during the first six months, another 100 are expected to be trained over the next year. The aim is for these individuals to pass on information to friends, colleagues and neighbours about simple projects that anyone from the local community can become involved with.

Ms Carson also works to ensure digitally-excluded patients can get help accessing information on sustainability and health. A designated ‘talking bench’ located in the town centre as well as the talking cafes are accessible to everyone and are used to share information on how to get involved in the ‘green and healthy’ programme.

The impact within the practice

Practice staff have also been encouraged to signpost activities that will improve patient’s health and reduce their environmental impact. Meanwhile initiatives designed to improve practice staff members’ health and wellbeing, which has included developing a staff wellbeing garden and hot composting project, have also been undertaken.

The presence of a green health connector has also helped the practice deliver its ‘Green Impact Project’ and take further steps to reduce its carbon footprint. Ms Carson says that the next step is to ‘train up the majority of practice staff so that they feel confident having conversations on climate and health with patients and also in their own circles’.

  • You can visit the practice website for more information on the steps they have taken.

Useful resources

  • The RCGP green impact toolkit is a good place to start if your practice is interested in taking steps to reduce its carbon footprint and promote sustainability.

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