About this good practice
Green social prescribing (GSP) allows health care professionals to refer patients with physical and mental health issues to a range of local, non-clinical services which incorporate being in and interacting with nature. It takes shape as a physical activity in green or blue spaces including cycling, walking and gardening.
Through GSP initiatives, nature-based interventions replace or act alongside prescribed medications. Patients can experience the physical and mental health benefits of spending time in nature and has the potential to reduce some of the burden on over-stretched healthcare systems in the long term.
Following the first lockdown, the UK government started an investment project in GSP with 7 ‘test and learn’ sites in England which focus on the hardest hit communities by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is a commitment to expand the number of social prescribing link workers in primary care up to 1,000 link workers. Link workers will then connect people to community groups and agencies for practical and emotional support, based on a ‘what matters to you conversation’.
The are many beneficiaries from this initiative, especially vulnerable people that do not have access or the disposable income to discover the natural environment. This is also important for people that are suffering with long-term conditions that have become isolated during the pandemic, it provides an opportunity for people to come together and be safe together.
Following the first national lockdown for COVID-19, the UK government started a large investment project in green social prescribing. £4 million was invested in a cross-government project. Six months after, this grew to £5.77 million, which was spread across 7 sites across England.
Evidence of success
The seven NHS test and learn sites demonstrated the potential of green social prescribing while simultaneously targeting some of the regions that were most affected by the pandemic. This includes the swimming activities promoted by the Canal and Rivers Trust’s Wellbeing Waterways project in Nottingham and Open Minds programme in North Somerset. The impact of these sites will be assessed to determine how green social prescribing can be scaled up to increase prescribed nature-based activities.
Potential for learning or transfer
The pandemic has led to many discovering the health and wellbeing benefits of being in nature. Municipalities can capitalise on the increased recognition of the role of nature in health to support the physical and mental health of residents. Municipalities will have to bring together health practitioners and community groups to make green social prescribing happen.
The 7 test sites can act as case studies to examine the potential for scaling up green social prescribing across the UK. Joined Up Care Derbyshire is an example of one of these successful sites, where a social prescribing framework has been identified as one of the key components in enabling holistic and personalised care to the community. This model enables community engagement with health practitioners and has the potential to influence other local authorities across the UK aiming to replicate this model of social prescribing, while also incorporating their specific needs into the framework.