Social prescribing should be incorporated into GP IT systems to ensure the practice reaches its “full potential”, the British Medical Association has said.

In its sustainable and environmentally friendly general practice England policy document, part of a wider drive to deliver carbon neutrality by 2030, the association notes social prescribing could lead to better health outcomes and more environmentally aware patients.

Social prescribing – the referral to non-clinical services such as community groups – has been part of the General Medical Services contract since 2019 but does not currently form part of GP IT systems.

“To ensure that it is used to its full potential, social prescribing needs to be added as a default option to all GP IT systems,” the policy document states.

Nature-based health interventions, used to supplement orthodox medical treatments, offer physical, psychological and social benefits, the document adds.

“Effective use of social prescribing has the potential to improve patients’ health and wellbeing while also reducing practice attendances and wider NHS use,” it states.

“Nature-based activities may lead patients into better health as well as into more pro-environmental behaviours and a general sense of environmental stewardship. Through social prescribing, GPs have the potential to lead patients into more environmentally aware lifestyles.”


The policy document highlights other areas where GP surgeries can reduce their carbon footprint, including prescribing and remote working.

According to the latest estimates between 65% and 90% of general practice’s carbon footprint is associated with pharmaceutical prescribing, followed by staff and patient travel.

The relative carbon footprint of drugs being prescribed should be readily available to GPs and other providers, the policy states, adding the pharmaceutical industry should work with IT providers to ensure this is included into all GP systems.

This would give providers the opportunity to choose a more carbon efficient drug when more than one viable option is available.

Online deprescribing tools, such as Medstopper,  could also “play a pivotal role” if incorporated into GP IT systems by helping clinicians and patients make informed decisions about reducing or stopping medications.

Remote working

Remote consultations should be considered, where appropriate, to reduce the need for “potentially environmentally damaging” staff and patient travel, according to the document.

Citing the reduction in face-to-face appointments during the Covid-19 pandemic, the document suggests telephone and video consultations could be a continued way of working post-lockdown.

“The pandemic has also shown that GPs and practice staff themselves do not always have to travel into work to carry out consultations, providing they have access to the suitable technology to work from home,” it states.

“This not only has potential benefits in terms of carbon reduction but also promotes more flexible ways of working.”

Digital Health News recently asked a number of digital primary care suppliers how their patients were using services during the pandemic and found text and telephone appointments trumped video consultations.