General practice and the local community tackling climate change together
Case study summary
Frome Medical Practice, in Somerset, has been recognised by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) as one of the leading GP practices in the country for addressing sustainability through their comprehensive work towards meeting the criteria of the RCGP’s Green Impact Toolkit.
Back in 2020, the practice had the unique opportunity to accelerate their work by participating in the A Green and Healthy Future for Frome project, in partnership with Edventure: Frome, a school for community enterprises in Somerset, and Frome Town Council. The project aims to identify where changes can be made to improve both health and climate outcomes within Frome. One area of focus, named ‘Choosing Wisely’, involves Frome Medical Practice supporting their patients to make healthier and greener choices regarding their own health and wellbeing. This includes doing things such as stopping smoking, being more physically active or moving more (including active travel), healthier eating, reducing stress and drinking less alcohol. The practice also looks at reducing the use of unnecessary medication within primary care, instead offering alternatives including switching to ‘greener’, low carbon asthma inhalers, reducing the over-prescribing of antidepressants and blood pressure medication, encouraging changes to lifestyles as an alternative.
Welcoming a green health connector into the general practice team
The Green and Healthy Future for Frome project also enabled the practice to appoint a green health connector in March 2021, to further embed consideration of the environment and health. The role, which forms part of the on-site social prescribing team, Health Connections Mendip, engages staff and patients in exploring the intrinsic connection between health and the climate. Within the first six months of implementing the green health connector role, significant progress has already been made that will positively impact patients and the wider community:
- Offering short sessions to the wider community, where people can learn more about how to take positive steps to make a difference to the planet and people’s wellbeing. More than 100 green community connectors have been trained in six months, with plans to train a further 100 over the next year. Green community connectors learn about how to reduce their own carbon footprint, find out how to access local support and existing health groups and are equipped to signpost others to these too. They proactively invite individuals, community groups, local employers, faith groups and public institutions to join the training. Feedback surveys have shown an increased confidence in attendee knowledge of the link between health and climate change with 92% being satisfied or very satisfied with the training experience.
- Ensuring that digitally-excluded patients can get help to access this information at a designated “talking bench” in the town centre, or “talking cafes” where information can be shared about how to get involved in the Green and Healthy Future programme and wider community initiatives.
- Engaging Frome Medical Practice staff to include signposting to activities that will improve health and reduce the environmental impact. The Health Connections Mendip team, consisting of health connectors, social prescribing link workers and health and wellbeing coaches, are fully trained and can now signpost patients to diet, active travel, financial and energy support, empowering patients to live healthier lives, along with understanding the connection to supporting a healthier planet.
- Working with the town council and a local energy advice service, the green health connector has made more than 600 contacts (in just over four months) with patients and the wider public by text message, letters and drop-in events that have led to 59 direct referrals to free and impartial energy advice. Through this work, Frome residents get support to access funds for energy efficiency measures if they have a low income and receive advice if they wish to make more extensive home upgrades.
To further embed the benefits into the practice, the green health connector has implemented the following changes:
- supported the installation of a staff wellbeing garden
- introduced staff composting
- organised aromatic herb planters at the entrance of the building
- set up a successful two-week electric bike trial for staff and cycle to work support
- coordinated a Green Youth Patient Participation Group
The green health connector also attends monthly GP and nurse meetings to ensure all members of the practice team can increase the uptake of climate and health ‘win-wins’ during patient consultations.
They contribute to a GP practice newsletter to inform and update clinical and non-clinical staff on the local, community-based climate solutions available to staff and patients.
By implementing just one green change into your general practice, you will be supporting the NHS to achieve its net zero ambitions.