By Daniel Martin
Last updated at 1:07 AM on 27th January 2009
In future, patients may have to go without meat as part of plans to cut carbon emissions
Patients should phone their GP rather than drive in for a visit, according to National Health Service guidelines unveiled today.
Ministers want family doctors to hold more 'phone-in' surgeries to help the environment by cutting carbon emissions from cars.
They also want hospitals to achieve their green targets by reducing the amount of meat they serve to patients in wards.
Patient groups said the 'telemedicine' plans were fraught with danger because a misdiagnosis over the phone could lead to incorrect treatment and even death.
The Government says action is needed because the NHS is responsible for a quarter of all the carbon dioxide emissions produced by the public sector.
It produces 18million tons of the gas linked to global warming every a year - 3.2 per cent of the total for the whole of Britain.
The strategy commits the NHS to reducing its 2007 emissions by 10 per cent by 2015, and by 80 per cent by 2050.
NHS chief executive David Nicholson said: 'As the biggest public sector employer in the country, the NHS needs to lead by example. I want to encourage NHS staff to really get involved and do their bit to create a greener NHS.'
But Michael Summers, of the Patients Association, said: 'I believe this is fraught with danger, and many GPs see it as a dangerous practice.
'There are cases of patients having died after being misdiagnosed over the phone.
'Speaking to your GP over the phone can be reassuring in non-urgent cases - but how can a GP know if it's urgent or not without seeing them?
'We shouldn't be discouraging patients from seeing doctors if needed. This is about the saving of money but I'd rather talk about the saving of lives.'
Laurence Buckman, of the British Medical Association, said: 'Decisions on whether a consultation needs to be in person or by telephone should be made for clinical reasons.'
Mark Wallace, of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: 'People will be suspicious that yet again the environment is being used as an excuse to give a worse service.'
The strategy for England also advises staff to use medical instruments that can be decontaminated and re-used rather than single-use ones, raising fears of spreading infections if they are not properly cleaned.
It also tells hospitals to reduce the amount of meat they serve to patients, replacing it with more fish, vegetables and local produce.