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23rd August 2023

Good Medical Practice a missed opportunity to embed sustainability in standards for doctors

In a letter to the GMC, the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change has expressed disappointment at the lack of sustainability in the updated Good Medical Practice

We are disappointed at the weak update to the standards for doctors with respect to sustainability, and feel this is a missed opportunity by the GMC.

Systemic and cultural changes are needed in medical care if the health service is to achieve its legal obligation to be net zero by 2040/45. The standards for doctors should also position sustainability as a core focus of practice, acknowledging the ethical and moral duty of doctors to sustainable care. Doctors are one of the most trusted professions, and the lack of a clear public statement that elevates the need and urgency of the transformative changes needed is another missed opportunity.

In our response to the consultation, which had the support of health organisations from across the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, we highlighted the urgency of the threat to human health that we are experiencing as a consequence of the climate and nature crises and called for explicit and clear requirements regarding sustainable practice to protect patients, the wider community and the environment. A number of points and detailed insight was also provided by several other groups and through the working group that many of us participated in. 

The updates that have been included in the revised standard do not sufficiently articulate this need or address the detailed feedback and insights that were provided. 

In May this year, the World Meteorological Organisation warned that global temperatures are likely to exceed 1.5C above pre-industrial levels within the next five years and that one of the next five years will be the warmest ever recorded. During the heatwaves between June and August 2022, 3000 excess deaths were recorded in England and Wales; Between April 2021 and March 2022, 176 flooding incidents in hospitals impacted patient care; Air pollution has been linked to several new causes of hospital admissions. The impacts are already being experienced in our health service and we must ensure doctors are equipped and empowered to be able to respond.

We understand the next review of Good Medical Practice may not happen for about another five years and feel this will be too late to deliver the sustainable care that is needed now. We ask the GMC to review the current wording in the revised standard and strengthen the requirement for sustainable care.