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Greener Practice’s 5th birthday: a suitably sustainable celebration

Rumina Önaç is a GP in York, sustainable healthcare advisor, and content creator with a blog and many useful educational/teaching videos and resources at https://www.thegreeningoflife.com. She is on Twitter: @GreenLifeGP

Celebrating a more environmentally-friendly approach to health care was the subject of a large get-together in Sheffield this month. ‘Greener Practice’, founded 5 years ago by local GPs Aarti Bansal and Honey Smith, has grown impressively from a tiny acorn to a flourishing oak, now with 30 offshoot groups across the UK.

Each one of these local groups is a network of primary care professionals with a shared passion for helping the NHS reach its target of net zero, inspired by the positive changes that developed from that very first and very informal meeting in a South Yorkshire pub in 2017.

“Greener Practice isn’t a specialty itself, but a lens with which to view all specialties and aspects of health care.”

As with all new movements, the key to spreading the message that we can provide high-quality health care that is good for patients and good for the planet, is underpinned by communication; communicating with colleagues, patients, and policymakers. Because after all, we need a two-pronged approach that encourages large organisations to make lower carbon changes at scale, as well as smaller, easier changes that can be made in the home and workplace to help instil change in mindset.

Luckily, the UK’s regional leads for Greener Practice have continued to work together on this double-ended plan, remotely, over the past 3 years, and their commitment to inspiring and embedding positive change in their individual areas of the country didn’t dampen despite the barriers imposed on us all during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nevertheless, when the opportunity arose to meet in person and spend 2 days together for a mixture of creative and supportive activities, 30 of them descended on the Steel City with plenty of green gusto, sleeping bags, smiles, ideas, and an abundance of supportive hugs.

Unsurprisingly, the entire weekend was skilfully planned to be as low-carbon as possible. Attendees travelled by train, shared lifts, or cycled. Food was home-made or sourced from Food Works Sheffield; a local kitchen where unwanted or surplus foods from supermarkets are sent to be reincarnated into delicious nutritious feasts.

Workshops and meals took place outside in the hosts’ gardens or on walks through Sheffield’s sprawling Endcliffe Park, where forests and rivers provided inspiration for a more nature-based approach to health care, and a desire to protect and promote our natural world.

“Together, aspirations and achievements were celebrated, barriers were contemplated, and friendships were made and strengthened.”

Together, aspirations and achievements were celebrated, barriers were contemplated, and friendships were made and strengthened. This group’s underpinning ethos of supporting each other both practically and emotionally was at the forefront of the 2 days, because the NHS is a stressful and exhausting place for clinicians, even without the added extra of educating on and implementing lower carbon strategies. After all, it’s still the case that most healthcare professionals involved in Greener Practice are doing this voluntarily on top of their clinical sessions.

As well as sharing our ideas for practical projects incorporating the pillars of Greener Practice — prevention, patient empowerment, lean pathways, and low carbon alternatives — there was a huge emphasis on creativity and self-care. Because without healthy happy leaders, there can be no positive direction for change. So, there were grounding and meditation sessions, time for thoughtful reflection, singing, craft, poetry reading, and games. Everyone left refreshed, cheerful, and full of hope that the work we are doing is essential and enjoyable.

Greener Practice isn’t a specialty itself, but a lens with which to view all specialties and aspects of health care. Every positive change we can make and encourage our patients to make, big or small, is worth it. Please join us!

Find your local group at https://www.greenerpractice.co.uk/join-our-network/local-groups

Featured photo by Sagar Patil on Unsplash.

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