Social prescribing takes welcome step forward

31/01/2019

Client gardener and horticultural therapist at work

By Kathryn Rossiter, Thrive Chief Executive

Today’s NHS announcement of plans to overhaul the services provided by GPs offers a very welcome opportunity for more people to access the health and wellbeing benefits of gardening.

The proposals include plans to recruit 1,000 staff to help GPs work with the primary care network and among these recruits will be social prescribing link workers.

What is social prescribing?

GPs are often faced with patients who have problems that medicines can’t mend, for example they are isolated, lonely, or have financial worries. Social prescribing offers an incredibly flexible way for them to be linked via their surgeries to non-clinical services in their community that suit their needs.

Up to now referrals to gardening and other nature-based activities have not been forthcoming to any significant degree on a national scale, but today’s announcement of a new five-year GP contract brings the promise of funding that aims to change this.

Thrive believes that therapeutic gardening should be available to everyone with a health need. The benefits in terms of better physical and mental health are well-documented but up to now not enough people have been able to access them.

We fervently hope that social prescribing link workers with detailed knowledge of services available in their communities and an understanding of the benefits of therapeutic gardening programmes will improve referrals to organisations like Thrive.

Why Social and Therapeutic Horticulture?

Gardening is a very flexible activity for therapeutic interventions. 

Thrive is a leader in Social and Therapeutic Horticulture (STH), a process of using plants and gardens to improve a person’s physical and mental health. People with defined health needs work with a trained horticultural therapist on a tailored set of activities that specifically fit their needs and goals.

The skill of the therapist is to identify the most appropriate gardening activities for the individual that would enable them to experience or practice an area of recovery that they have identified as a priority for themselves as the expert of their own situation.

Through an understanding of occupational science, the person will be engaged in activities that are meaningful and achievable to them to ensure progress in health and wellbeing.

With our three centres of excellence in Reading, London and Birmingham working alongside client gardeners every day, we see the improvements that gardening and STH programmes can bring to the lives of people with a myriad of health needs.

Holistic benefits

That’s why Thrive has been working to increase the take-up of social prescribing, increasing awareness of STH among health professionals and offering more clarity about the holistic benefits of gardening.

As well as the benefits to the individual, research has shown that social prescribing can reduce demand on hard-pressed GPs and NHS services, and today’s announcement endorses that view.

This year Thrive is celebrating its 40th anniversary and we see the NHS social prescribing plans as a major step towards achieving the goal of our founders in bringing worlds of horticulture and health closer together.