A prescription for fresh air and green space

The NHS has committed to a having team of 1,000 social prescribing professionals to support mental health – the largest investment anywhere by a national health system

Jon Flobrant R19nfvs3wy Unsplash

Gardening is good for you! We knew that already, but now this simple but powerful fact is being acknowledged by health professionals who are adopting social prescribing as part of the latest NHS Long Term Plan, which was published in January 2019.

But what is the connection between social prescribing and gardening? The NHS commitment to social prescribing gives GPs, and other referrers, a way to help people connect to activities in their local communities – and that includes gardening.

In practical terms this could mean that over the next few years, millions of people are given a pathway to discover the joy of getting outdoors to get growing, joining gardening groups to find new friends, learn new skills and benefit from the healing effects of nature.

Social prescribing and long-term NHS policy

The 2019 NHS Long Term Plan for England committed to five major, practical changes to the way services work together over the next five years. This includes a commitment to people getting 'more control over their own health and more personalised care when they need it'.

Making social prescribing more widely available when people visit their GP practice is part of this commitment to personalised care. It’s not new, and the NHS is not taking the credit for what is a vibrant social movement. For a long time people have been working in communities to support activities that are good for people’s wellbeing. But the difference now is that the NHS has committed to building a robust infrastructure so that social prescribing is available for all who need it.  

'This is the largest investment in social prescribing made anywhere by a national health system'

The NHS has promised at least 1,000 trained social prescribing link workers in general practice networks (known as ‘primary care networks’) by 2020/21. And there will be more beyond that, so that at least 900,000 people can be referred to social prescribing by 2023/24. This is the largest investment in social prescribing made anywhere by a national health system.

How does social prescribing work?