All medicines should be labelled to identify their carbon footprint, the British Medical Association’s GP committee (GPC) has said.
Richard Vautrey, chair of the GPC, said in a letter to Jo Churchill, pharmacy minister, that up to 90% of the carbon footprint of general practice “is associated with pharmaceutical prescribing”.
Therefore, he said action was needed “to ensure that GPs and other clinicians can make informed decisions about the carbon footprint of the medicines they prescribe”.
“All medicines should be labelled (on the RAG [red, amber, green] rating system) to identify their carbon footprint,” the letter continued.
Vautrey noted that labelling medicines in this way “would involve the pharmaceutical industry undertaking an independently validated methodology to assess the total environmental impact of all medications”.
Vautrey also recommended “reducing unnecessary prescribing” as an additional way to cut carbon emissions.
“This can be facilitated through the incorporation of validated deprescribing tools into the general practice operating system,” he said.
The BMA’s letter follows the publication of NHS England’s plan to reduce the organisation’s carbon emissions to ‘net zero’.
‘Delivering a ‘net zero’ National Health Service’, published on 1 October 2020, said that medicines and chemicals represent 20% of the NHS’s carbon emissions.
The report also said that if pharmaceutical suppliers were to meet their NHS commitments to reduce carbon emissions, 4,203 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent would be cut from the NHS’s total emissions by 2045.
“The NHS is working with patients, clinicians and industry to reduce emissions, and will continue to work with pharmaceutical companies to encourage carbon transparency reporting,” the report said.
“Further work will include the active consideration of compulsory reporting from suppliers, and the inclusion of carbon accounting in the metric by which suppliers are assessed during procurement exercises.”