Could GP commissioning save the planet?

Posted: 24 September 2010 by Grant Mills

Conference comment: The arguments in favour of care closer to home are many – not least to achieve higher quality of care plus improved efficiency and cost saving. There is also the carbon-reduction dividend.

Our study of a single Midlands healthcare region shows that shifting only a few care specialities closer to home can have a significant carbon saving. Our research of the area which has a population of some 660,000, has found that shifting 190,000 patient journeys closer to home can have a significant carbon saving - more than 5 millionKgCO2 across the whole system. For patients, this means a total travel distance reduction of 3.6 million kilometres a year. These gains could be even greater as more radical care pathway changes are adopted or if patients are more frequently treated in their homes using remote technologies.

It is important to note that this is not the full answer to transport carbon emissions because these figures are off set by increases in carbon travel for staff. Further research is underway to determine an integrated view of the reduction of carbon for care, estates and transport infrastructures and it is anticipated that further reductions in estates carbon will be experienced through sending care closer to home.

All of this suggests considerable opportunities for reducing carbon. It presents GP and acute commissioners with some important challenges in working together with their partners to reduce carbon.

A big problem is that existing healthcare planning tools are often inadequate and inflexible to model the implications for transport carbon of shifting services. We need more research so healthcare planners can really understand the options and trade-offs between different service configurations and carbon emissions. Strategic Health Authorities and Trusts must work together to build a unified whole system approach to healthcare access and planning to ensure emissions are understood, planned for and kept to a minimum.

More detail: go to HaCIRIC International Conference Proceedings pp141-150

Grant Mills is Research Associate, HaCIRIC, Department of Civil and Building Engineering at Loughborough University.