BJGP article - Carbon Footprint of Patients Journeys

Sally Aston's picture
Carbon footprint of patient journeys through primary care

Abstract from an article published in the British Journal of General Practice (BJGP) September 2013 and taken from SDU webite at


The NHS has a target of cutting its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Travel comprises 17% of the NHS carbon footprint. This carbon footprint represents the total CO2 emissions caused directly or indirectly by the NHS. Patient journeys have previously been planned largely without regard to the environmental impact. The potential contribution of ‘avoidable’ journeys in primary care is significant.


To investigate the carbon footprint of patients travelling to and from a general practice surgery, the issues involved, and potential solutions for reducing patient travel.

Design and setting

A mixed methods study in a medium-sized practice in Yorkshire.


During March 2012, 306 patients completed a travel survey. GIS maps of patients’ travel (modes and distances) were produced. Two focus groups (12 clinical and 13 non-clinical staff) were recorded, transcribed, and analysed using a thematic framework approach.


The majority (61%) of patient journeys to and from the surgery were made by car or taxi; main reasons cited were ‘convenience’, ‘time saving’, and ‘no alternative’ for accessing the surgery. Using distances calculated via ArcGIS, the annual estimated CO2 equivalent carbon emissions for the practice totalled approximately 63 tonnes. Predominant themes from interviews related to issues with systems for booking appointments and repeat prescriptions; alternative travel modes; delivering health care; and solutions to reducing travel.


The modes and distances of patient travel can be accurately determined and allow appropriate carbon emission calculations for GP practices. Although challenging, there is scope for identifying potential solutions (for example, modifying administration systems and promoting walking) to reduce ‘avoidable’ journeys and cut carbon emissions while maintaining access to health care.

Authors: Andrews, Elizabeth; Pearson, David; Kelly, Charlotte; Stroud, Laura; Rivas Perez, Martin

Source: British Journal of General Practice, Volume 63, Number 614, September 2013 , pp. e595-e603(9)

Publisher: Royal College of General Practitioners

Register or log in to join our networks!