Backed by Science, Green Social Prescribing is Bringing a Holistic Approach to Western Medicine
There is more and more awareness of the many things that impact our health from work or financial stress, to loneliness, lack of connection to self, and everything in between. Feeling good and having bodies that allow us to do the things we want isn’t always something a doctor can help us with and, fortunately, the NHS is starting to recognise this and offer additional support to cover those many and varied other issues that impact our health overall. Broadly this practice is called Social Prescribing and one of the things under that umbrella is Green Social Prescribing – nature-focused support.
What is Green Social Prescribing?
As more and more research highlights the benefits of Forest Bathing and other communal outdoor activities, the NHS is embracing Green Social Prescribing to promote mental and physical health through nature-based interventions.
Often your GP won’t prescribe a specific activity, for example, you’re unlikely to get a prescription stating you need to try Forest Bathing. Instead, they will connect you with a Link Worker who will find out more about your struggles and what matters to you, and is also well versed in all the options available locally. That Link Worker will then put you in touch with the service provider who best suits your needs.
Depending on what’s available in your area some options might include:
- Community gardening projects
- Conservation volunteering
- Green gyms
- Open water swimming
- Group walks
- Forest Bathing
- Arts and cultural activities which take place outdoors.
Cutting Costs AND Helping Patients
According to data from the National Academy for Social Prescribing, these alternative methods of managing illness and its causes have the potential to save the NHS money while still helping patients – so everybody wins.
Freeing up GP appointments
1 in 5 or 20% of GP appointments are for non-medical problems and instead relate to social, emotional or financial needs. Social prescribing means many of these appointments can be reduced as patients can access support elsewhere. This leaves GPs with more time for patients who need their specific medical knowledge and skills (and hopefully even some time to take proper breaks too).
Fewer costly medicines required
It also reduces the cost to the NHS for medications, which can often be very expensive and don’t treat the root cause of the issue – and that’s without going into the additional costs of medication to treat the side effects of those potentially unnecessary medications. Switching out tablets for practical and emotional support which empowers the patient and alleviates some, if not all, of their difficulties, has a very real impact on Healthcare Trust budgets.
Avoiding crisis through early intervention
“For every £1 of the £180,000 funding spent supporting vulnerable people, the Social Prescribing Service produced more than £10 of benefits in terms of better health.” – The economic impact of Social Prescribing.
Early intervention and the creation of an effective support network are also proven to reduce hospital admissions and reduce the need for intensive treatments, especially in cases of mental illness and stress-related issues. Keeping people out of crisis through Green Social Prescribing and other social support is a huge selling point from a financial perspective, but also offers peace of mind for the individuals and their loved ones.
The benefits to patients and each local community really can’t be understated when it comes to Green Social Prescribing, but the fact it also saves the struggling NHS money only proves that we can’t afford not to roll this out countrywide.
Where Can You Get a Green Social Prescription?
Considering Social Prescribing as a whole, NHS England started out in 2019 with 300 Link Workers and numbers are now in excess of 3600. There have also been more than 2.3 million Social Prescribing referrals in that time.
But at the moment, not all Healthcare Trusts offer Green Social Prescribing as an option. The government ran a 2-year study in April 2021 to understand the benefits and issues of Green Social Prescribing, the final results of which are due out very soon. The early feedback and findings are positive and include:
- Over 8,500 people referred to a Green Social Prescribing activity during the programme from April 2021 to March 2023
- Positive improvements in mental health and wellbeing and strong engagement in communities experiencing high levels of social inequalities that affect health and wellbeing
- 85% uptake of Green Social Prescriptions when offered
- Green Social Prescribing continues in all seven of the test sites, demonstrating a lasting impact of the programme.
At the moment, only these 7 test areas have access to this holistic treatment option:
- Humber and North Yorkshire Integrated Care System
- South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw Integrated Care System
- Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Integrated Care System
- Joined Up Care Derbyshire Integrated Care System
- Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership
- Surrey Heartlands Health and Care Partnership
- Healthier Together Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Integrated Care System.
The Uphill Struggle to Make it the Norm
If you’re in one of the areas which does have this option, lucky you! Ask your GP about the scheme and make sure you give your feedback if you’ve used it. If you live elsewhere, contact your MP and write to your local surgery and NHS Trust to let them know that you want to see this rolled out and why.
There is very little funding for Green Social Prescribing so many providers are gifting spaces to their local Trusts for free so that people can get the support they need. While this is wonderful, it’s neither a fair or sustainable model for the businesses offering those services. We need funding to ensure people can benefit from this both now and in the future.
How Do You Feel About Green Social Prescribing?
Now you’ve learned all about the benefits and the struggles of this relatively new treatment option, what do you think? Will you be asking your doctor about it, or maybe seeking out providers yourself to access the support privately for the time being?
I’d love to hear from you, whether you’ve been part of the trial or are just learning about it now.
And if you’re near Hampshire and want to discover the joys of Forest Bathing with me, I’d love to facilitate an experience for you. Or perhaps you’d rather have a go in your own time – then the perfect way to start is with one of my seasonal Vitamin N (Nature) Adventures.