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The Natural Health Service – an innovative
collaboration focusing on what the great outdoors
can do for our bodies and minds
 Conference, lead-in and follow-up webinars, and networking

The outdoors is playing an increasing role in our health

There is a growing movement towards using the outdoors in the prevention and treatment of physical and mental illnesses and it can also add significant social benefits.

People who spend at least two hours a week in nature experience better health and higher psychological wellbeing than those who do not visit nature at all during an average week.

More widely, patients often benefit from non-medical interventions such as an exercise class, learning a skill or joining a community group – often referred to as ‘social prescribing’ – and this takes place outdoor as ‘green prescribing’.

Green prescriptions could also save the NHS money – 2019 research by Leeds Beckett University and The Wildlife Trusts suggests that for every £1 invested in health or social needs projects that connect people to nature, there is a £6.88 social return.

Environment Secretary George Eustice announced on 17th July a £4m pilot project to test whether getting patients to join outdoor activities and spend more time green spaces could prove an effective treatment for a range of physical and mental ailments.

The scheme, which is due to start in the autumn and run for two years, will see patients in four English locations encouraged to join cycling or walking groups, take outdoor exercise classes, join tree planting projects or take up gardening.

Green prescribing already up and running in New Zealand 

Green prescribing has been up and running in New Zealand since 1998, and eight out of ten GPs there have issued green prescriptions to patients.

Patients are allotted a support worker who encourages them to be more active through phone calls, face-to-face meetings or a support group. Progress is then reported back to the GP. 

One survey found that 72 percent noticed positive changes to their health, 67 percent improved their diet and more than half felt stronger and fitter.

 

It’s fascinating to see this link between exposure to nature and better health and wellbeing.

Outdoor exercise is good for people of all ages

Even the shortest walk can do you good

However, with the pressures currently facing primary care, many GP practices can’t spend the necessary time with a patient to link them with the most appropriate activity.
Research also indicates that many GPs are not familiar with local opportunities for prescribing outdoor activities

One can then discuss whether the providers should develop a higher profile and a better relationship with prescribers and/or should improve their outreach to providers?
Research into shinrin-yoku – Japanese forest bathing – for instance, suggested that various psychophysiological benefits can be gained from merely sitting passively in natural versus urban settings.

There are many ways of motivating and taking physical activity specific to local people in their local parks, green spaces or waterways.

There is no generic template for a good park or green space. The connections between experiences of nature, including diverse trees, plants and wildlife and mental wellbeing are strong. A green space that only serves as a children’s playground or a football training ground is not fulfilling its potential,
Also, while green spaces are important we should remember that ‘blue space’ matters too. Rivers, lakes and canals are all great places for people to enjoy paddlesports, swimming or just being near the water.

Running in Burgess Park in Southwark, London

Wild swimming has become increasingly popular during the pandemic

The possibilities for our green space as places where local people engage and are active are numerous and there is considerable scope for residents to share their experiences of using the outdoors, to help people come up with ideas. It is also important to recognise that visibility in the outdoors makes it easier to see people like being active – reducing the fear getting involved. 

There are also many ways that local groups and community entrepreneurs can become involved and develop bottom-up initiatives which can have a real impact due to their understanding of local needs and people.

Powering The Natural Health Service together

For too long, the providers and prescribers within the health sectors, activity providers have simply been a sum of its parts. The result is that the ecosystem that supports a Natural Health Service is fragmented. We are proposing that we should focus on collaboration and connecting the diverse players to enable them to review, reflect and learn how they should together more efficiently as a system today and in the future.

This innovative collaboration is aimed at representatives from wildlife trusts, parks, social and sports development and other departments at our local authorities, social prescribers, public health, trusts, social enterprises, community groups and health and wellbeing bodies.

The Natural Health Service – the Collaboration

An innovative collaboration, through a conference with lead-in and follow-up webinars and guides designed to develop a genuine partnership between private businesses, social enterprises, charities and public sector bodies engaged in using the outdoor to get people engaged and active.Our objective is to facilitate collaboration, debate, learning and connections to shape system-wide and nation-wide solutions.

We also believe that this post-COVID-19 period is the time and a huge opportunity to encourage change and innovation to help facilitate an exciting future for The Natural Health Service.

Kickstarting The Natural Health Service after the pandemic

The coronavirus crisis has presented us with challenges and changes to all aspects of our lives and the way that the providers and prescribers within the outdoor activity sector will be operating in the future.A key question is how the new ‘normal’ going to look like and how you will respond. Will the way that we enjoy being active, in all sorts of ways, be changing and, if so how can we adapt to that?  We are already experiencing many changes in people’s behaviour in the way we exercise (or not) and we are also seeing many great examples of community spirit, some of them, but perhaps not enough, coming from the outdoors providers.

The next step

We will be launching The Natural Health Service as soon as we know that we can safely run public events in the UK, hopefully soon.  In the meantime, we will start highlighting best practice in the UK and beyond.  So, if you want to learn more, share story or some of your thoughts on the matter, please get in touch

We are very excited about the Natural Health Service project and we hope that  you will want to become involved