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

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?

Social prescribing is more than good advice or a suggestion that somebody might benefit from getting out into the garden, joining a choir or taking up exercise. A key part of the strategy is the provision of link workers who are employed to give people time. 
The GP's surgery is often a place people go to when they don’t know where else to turn. It is estimated that 20% of people visit their GPs for what is primarily a social rather than a health problem. And this is where social prescribing link workers can make a difference, by taking referrals from GPs and other care professionals.

'It is estimated that 20% of people visit their GPs for what is primarily a social rather than a health problem'

Social prescribing link workers have the time and space to work alongside people often with complex needs and difficult life circumstances. They can help people who may become isolated, providing time and relationships that are critical to building confidence and reconnecting.

Social prescribing at the RHS

Already the RHS has introduced a social prescribing scheme at its fifth garden, at Bridgewater, in Salford, Manchester, which is due to open in 2020. As part of our vision to engage with the local community, a new role has been created for a Therapeutic Gardener, and the plan is to roll out gardening as therapy on a pilot scheme.

Ozichi Brewster, a mental health professional, is working with a local NHS care team and the University of Salford in a programme which should benefit up to 75 people through supported volunteering at the garden.

Growing happiness

Social prescribing does not replace medical treatment, but it gives a new future to people who need connection rather than just medication. And so more people could discover what keen gardeners have always known – that the feel of soil on your hands and a cup of tea with fellow enthusiasts really does make the world a brighter place.

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.