3 Sep 2020

Blog: NHS Greenspace for health and wellbeing

Most of us enjoy the instinctive belief that contact with nature is good for us, and an increasing body of scientific research shows that is true. 

Regular contact with nature is linked to better health, reduced levels of chronic stress, reductions in obesity and improved concentration.

Looking back
(Larbert Woods - managed for patients, staff, visitors and the community by Forestry and Land Scotland right next to Forth Valley Hospital)

Spending time in high quality greenspace reduces levels of hormones that indicate stress, such as cortisol and adrenaline. Greenspace also helps boost the immune system: several studies show that it increases natural killer cells, or lymphocytes, which help to defend the body against viruses and cancer.

One famous study showed a view through a window may influence recovery from surgery. The results of this seminal evidence - based design study by Dr. Ulrich - suggested that natural views had therapeutic influences on hospital patients. The patients with a tree view had a reduction in pain and anti-anxiety medication use and were discharged sooner from hospital compared to patients with a brick wall view.

NHS Greenspace Demonstration Project

The National Health Service (NHS) in Scotland has over 164,000 individual staff, and its estate is one of the biggest in Europe, with over 1,500 buildings including circa 200 hospitals and assets worth over £7.2 billion. These public assets include greenspace in the immediate hospital grounds as well as wider parklands, woodlands, grasslands and farmlands – much of which has been gifted or left to the NHS in legacies for the benefit of NHS staff and patients.

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The Green Exercise Partnership is a joint venture between Scottish Forestry, NHS National Services Scotland, NatureScot and Public Health Scotland. The Partnership aims to build links between the health and environment sectors, following growing evidence that public health can be improved by getting people engaged with the natural environment. The partnership coordinates the NHS Greenspace demonstration project.

The aims of the project are:

 to improve the quality and accessibility of greenspace on a range of healthcare demonstration sites; and
 to encourage more use of greenspace by patients, staff, visitors and members of the local community.

Considerable progress has been made, with a range of inspiring projects across a diversity of health and care settings having been delivered by each of the health boards. Greenspace improvements have been delivered across 87 hectares of the NHS estate and include:

 46 hectares of hospital woodland brought back into sustainable management;
 11,000 trees planted in hospital woods and along walkways and parklands;
 4 therapeutic gardens created;
 1.4 hectares of wildflower meadow created;
 20km of new/upgraded paths created;
 3.2km of all-abilities trails created;
 50 new seating and rest areas created; and
 interpretation panels, site maps and walking leaflets produced.

More detailed information on ther project is available in the Unlocking the Potential of NHS Greenspace for Health and Wellbeing report. 

Summer Leaf Room 5
(The Leaf Room and community garden at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee - a sheltered and communal space for patients, staff and the community)

Connecting people with NHS greenspace

In addition, Scottish Forestry has helped set up four NHS Greenspace for Health Partnerships. These pilots showcase how to work with hospital staff and local organisations to encourage more people to use NHS greenspace. Activity programmes include health walks, community garden projects, branching out and environmental conservation work.