A Portrait of Mental Health
A recent report titled underlined that £635 million pounds could be saved by the NHS every year. Rigos101/Wikimedia Commons

The people of Britain could greatly increase their well-being and have better health if they opt for more nature-based healthcare, revealed a new report by the Institute of Occupational Medicine Health.

The report titled 'A Natural Health Service: Improving Lives and Saving Money' underlined that £635 million pounds could be saved by the NHS every year if people could simply adopt at least one of the green-prescribing strategies suggested by the Wildlife Trusts.

The Wildlife Trust offers many green prescribing programs through which a person can spend time in nature, which include:

  • Wild at Heart: This small group activity run by the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust lets people indulge in activities in the countryside. According to the study, the NHS has the potential to reduce the £1.19 cost for every £1. With 82 people participating in a year, it amounted to an annual healthcare savings of £38,000.
  • MyPlace: This Lancashire Wildlife Trust-run physical and mental health-improving scheme can save £7,000 in healthcare along with £28,000 in employment-related savings. There is a £2.19 benefit for the health service for every £1.
  • Feed the Birds: This Shropshire Wildlife Trust initiative lets people feed birds and animals, helping them deal with isolation and other mental health issues. With 57 people participating in a year, the scheme helps £15,000 in healthcare savings annually. For every £1 investment, the health service gets £0.40. This appears to be low but if all participants engage for the full 31-month duration course the benefits amount to £100,000.

Not only these initiatives, but any nature-based activities like swimming outdoors also have the potential of improving mental health, reducing the burden of the NHS.

Green spaces improved mental health

During the pandemic, the UK government had declared that they would invest £4 million in "green prescribing" initiatives like community gardening, walking, food growing etc with the aim to address the growing mental health issues plaguing the country.

Through this investment announced in July 2020, the government sought to create an alternative to housing or social care groups and other such community-based groups. People can indulge in such activities after their GP prescribes it for them.

Now, this survey done by the Institute of Occupational Medicine Health has revealed that this is genuinely helping people as 90 per cent say green spaces improved their mental health. This means that some of the burdens of the NHS could be shared by the Wildlife Trust if its programs are at the disposal of healthcare professionals, making them able to prescribe it to appropriate patients.

Lowering the burden of the NHS

Speaking about the matter, Dr Amir Khan from the NHS revealed that the NHS is working towards building a team of workers who would act as a connecting link between the NHS and the Wildlife Trusts, helping people to take part in such programs run by the Trust.

As part of the study, five Wildlife Trust Programmes were analysed to understand the nature and extent of the benefits of the health service. This revealed that if everyone in the country participated in one such program it could reduce the burden of £635 million as 1.2 million people will have better health.

Reducing preventable illnesses

Dr Amir Khan stressed the importance of the study, highlighting how it shows that the NHS and the Wildlife Trusts could work together for the benefit of the people of the UK.

These programs could address some of the causes of preventable illnesses like social isolation which often gives rise to depression, loneliness and physical inactivity in people, said Khan. These mental issues often cause physical problems like musculoskeletal issues and also lead to economic activity, added Khan.

Green prescribing unleashes the potential of nature as a cure

Speaking about green prescribing, the head of health and education at the Wildlife Trusts, Dom Higgins said that this proves the efficiency of nature-based projects in improving the wellbeing of people.

Higgins stressed the necessity of maximising nature as part of health and social care, underlining why such green prescribing initiatives are crucial for society.

The Wildlife Trusts in the country have asked the government to integrate its green social prescribing programs into various departmental investments like transport, culture, housing and employment. This would provide the necessary support to the NHS and Wildlife Trust partnership.

So far £5.77 million have been invested into green social prescribing as Nature England teamed up with the housing and environment departments along with Sport England and various local community health partners. Gardening and wild swimming projects have been announced as part of this program.

Nature England is investigating the effect of these schemes on lowering pharmaceutical pollution by means of sewage discharge in rivers. They have roped in Bath University and Wessex Water for this research.