What is green social prescribing and how does it help?

Newly emerged and now given a national platform with a dedicated episode in the BBC’s Countryfile. Over the course of lockdown more people have seen the value in nature, giving rise to green social prescribing. But what does green social prescribing mean and how does it help people with their mental health and wellbeing?

What does green social prescribing mean?

Green social prescribing, like most social prescribing services is a form of community-based support for people with health and mental health issues. By introducing nature into their lives their wellbeing should improve.

Park green space

Social prescribing, and with it green social prescribing, is part of the larger Long Term Plan by the NHS. It focuses on nature-based interventions and activities.

In practice this most often takes shape as physical activity in green or blue spaces. Examples are cycling, walking, and gardening. There are also programmes in place that focus on those suffering from dementia. In addition, food growing projects have risen in popularity.

Less physically oriented activities are for example doing arts or cultural projects outdoors.              

How does green social prescribing differ from blue prescribing?

Often green and blue social prescribing take shape under the same banner, but there is a distinction between the two. The difference simply is the environment people are subscribed to.

Green and blue environment

A green environment means forests, parks and gardens, whereas a blue environment means lakes, rivers, creeks and so forth. Both types of environment have been found to offer benefits to health and wellbeing. 

How does green social prescribing help?

There’s a number of ways in which green social prescribing can have positive effects. NHS England emphasises the service can be beneficial for health and wellbeing. Firstly, mental health can greatly be improved by being in nature.

Back in 2016 Natural England reported that being in nature can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Many people since the start of the pandemic have reported positive experiences, being able to step away from the home (office) and venturing into nature, where one can clear their mind away from screens and the demands of daily life.

Secondly, due to its active nature, green social prescribing can help in tackling obesity in the UK and offer health benefits such as a lower blood pressure and decreased muscle tension. NHS Forest, in an evaluation on prescribing green space, mentioned 46% of patients that had received green prescriptions had lost weight.

An extra benefit in this space are the cost savings for the NHS. The same NHS Forest report estimated that the cost of physical inactivity in England was £8.2 billion per year.

Government investment in green social prescribing

Following the first national lockdown for COVID-19, the 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.

NHS England named them test and learn sites and they will focus specifically on those communities that have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Groups that fall within this category are for example BAME communities and people with mental health conditions.

The first projects are set out across:

  • Humber Coast and Vale Health and Care Partnership
  • South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw Integrated Care System
  • Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Integrated Care System
  • Joined Up Care Derbyshire Sustainability and Transformation Partnership
  • Greater Manchester Health & Social Care Partnership
  • Surrey Heartlands Health and Care Partnership
  • Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Sustainability and Transformation Partnership

The projects are scheduled to be set up between January and March 2021 and be delivered between April 2021 and April 2023.

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