UK countryside

Steve Barclay urged to extend green social prescribing programme

The Wildlife Trusts have written to Steve Barclay urging him to commit further support towards the Government’s Green Prescribing for Mental Health demonstration programme.

The letter – written by The Wildlife Trusts’ Director of Policy and Public Affairs Joan Edwards OBE – emphasises how green prescribing is “an evidence-based pillar of social prescribing that harnesses the proven health and wellbeing benefits of spending time in nature” before highlighting how the programme generated almost £7 worth of social value for every £1 invested.

The project began just after the first initial lockdown, when, then Environment Secretary, George Eustice announced £4m worth of government investment into the initiative.

As well as improving mental health outcomes, the programme was hoping to investigate how green social prescribing could narrow health inequalities and reduce demand as the NHS continues to identify and harness efficiencies.

Additional contributions from NHS England and NHS Improvement and the National Academy for Social Prescribing saw the overall investment rise to £5.77m, allowing the project to progress and for The Wildlife Trusts to be involved in each of the seven pilot projects.

But before the true benefits of the programme were realised, the COVID-19 pandemic halted the project’s progress, which has now led to The Wildlife Trusts’ plea to the Government for a further £2.5m of funding that would see the initiative extend two years beyond its current end-date in March 2023.

The letter in full read:

Dear Secretary of State,

Re: Extending the Green Prescribing for Mental Health demonstration programme

On behalf of The Wildlife Trusts, I am writing to ask that you support an extension to the Government’s Green Prescribing for Mental Health demonstration programme. This scheme is vital for people's mental health and wellbeing, and it can save the NHS time and money if given the chance to continue.

Green prescribing is an evidence-based pillar of social prescribing that harnesses the proven health and wellbeing benefits of spending time in nature. Demonstration sites were launched in April 2020 to test how green prescribing can improve mental health, reduce health inequalities, and reduce demand on the health and social care system. Interruptions caused by the pandemic mean the pilot programme hasn't been able to fulfil its potential.

Research from the National Academy of Social Prescribing finds social prescribing can reduce pressure on primary care and save the NHS money. This chimes with evidence from health economists at Leeds Beckett University, who found that Wildlife Trust programmes targeting people with low wellbeing generated £6.88 of social value for every £1 invested. 

If the Green Prescribing for Mental Health programme ends in March 2023, the Government risks losing all the progress it's made from the initial investment of £5.77 million. We understand that extending the pilots for a further two years would require around £2.5 million, which would ultimately lead to wider savings across the NHS. There is clear demand for this programme, with every Integrated Care System in England applying to host a demonstration site.

We applaud the Government for having the vision to invest in this innovative programme and we urge you to enable it to continue. The relatively modest investment for potential outcomes and cost saving presents excellent value for money.

The Wildlife Trusts help to deliver Green Prescribing for Mental Health in partnership with local NHS partners. We would be very happy to show you how this work is improving people’s health, can save the NHS money, and positively impact local green spaces. 

Yours sincerely,

Joan Edwards OBE

Director of Policy and Public Affairs, The Wildlife Trusts

NHE March/April 2024

NHE March/April 2024

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