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Green social prescribing is gaining momentum and can offer high quality services for patients, a virtual conference has heard.

The role of nature-based interventions in promoting health was put in the spotlight at an online event organised by Reading Gardening for Health and Wellbeing Network, which includes Thrive.

More than 100 professionals from healthcare, social care and education joined STH and nature-based practitioners to hear presentations from Reading university psychologist Dr Aileen Ho, Dr William Bird of Intelligent Health and Maya Butler from Natural England.

Snapshots of how existing horticultural therapy programmes are valued by those who use them were provided in pre-recorded video interviews with service users from Thrive, the Ridgeline Trist and Food 4 Families.

Maya Butler’s presentation offered an overview of not only the health benefits of nature-based interventions but green social prescribing in the South East.

‘Green social prescribing is gaining momentum and there is political will for it,’ she said. ‘Demand and supply are high as we come out of the pandemic.

We need to shift away from the bio-medical model and much more focus on the psychological and social aspects of what problems persist today.’

Maya Butler Natural England

‘It can save the NHS money and resources. The only caveat is if it is done well and sensitively. We know that social prescribing is a prevention tool and it can also be a high quality patient-led intervention.

‘We need to make sure that Primary Care Networks – GPs, dieticians, physiotherapists – are really aware of what it is about, and understand and manage expectations as well about what it is not about to help with appropriate referrals.

‘We need to shift away from the bio-medical model and much more focus on the psychological and social aspects of what problems persist today.’

She concluded that the Reading network is well placed to take up green social prescribing opportunities, offering an eclectic mix of services that are doing ‘incredibly well’.

Dr Bird provided a medical overview of the impact of people’s disconnection from the natural environment and how this could impact the immune system and lead to many conditions often seen by GPs today, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, dementia, anxiety, depression and obesity.

Commending the importance of green spaces, he said that people who live close to them, feel healthier, have fewer medical complaints and have better mental health.

Delegates heard from Dr Ho about the Mind Walk challenge, an initiative exploring the impact on wellbeing and mood by walking at a slowed pace in nature.

Deliberately walking slowly is seen as offering not only a way to better appreciate the natural environment but to allow people a chance to disconnect from busy schedules and have more time to themselves.

This was shown to help restrict negative rumination and encourage positive reflection. Dr Ho said hundreds of people had taken part in the challenge and many had found it calming and grounding, although some did find the experience of walking intentionally slow strange.

You can watch the conference on Youtube here.

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