NHS Orkney roll out ‘Nature prescriptions’

NHS Orkney has begun the roll out of ‘Nature Prescriptions’, a joint initiative with RSPB Scotland and conservation programme Species on the Edge, designed to increase patients’ physical and mental health through increased connection with nature.

A Nature Prescription is a guided conversation between a healthcare professional and patient which explores how the patient can improve their mental and physical wellbeing through deepening their connection with nature. Alongside the conversation, patients are given a Nature Prescription Calendar which contains suggestions of seasonal activities they can try to help them connect to nature in a way that is personal and meaningful to them.

A growing body of evidence finds that having a strong connection to nature, beyond simple exposure to the natural world, can result in multiple benefits to both physical and mental health. Benefits can include:

  • Boosted immune system
  • Improved memory and concentration
  • Reduction in stress and promotion of relaxation
  • Improved sleep quality
  • Reduction in symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Reduction in respiratory illnesses

The Nature Prescription initiative was first trialled in Scotland in Shetland and in five GP practices across Edinburgh. 74 per cent of patients who took part in the trial reported having benefitted from their prescription and 91 per cent of prescribing health professionals stated that they would continue to offer Nature Prescriptions.

One patient who took part in the trial in Edinburgh said, “It is easy to forget just how helpful going for a walk in the woods, beach or park lifts your spirits, especially with ‘life’ getting in the way. Having the ‘permission’ to take time out and reconnect with nature has made a huge difference. It is a powerful and deep emotional boost/tonic that does help, as simple and basic as it may seem.”

Following the success of the trial in Shetland and Edinburgh, NHS Orkney have teamed up with RSPB Scotland and nature conservation programme, Species on the Edge, to roll out Nature Prescriptions in Orkney.

Dr Brunt, GP at Skerryvore Practice, said, “Myself and other local doctors love the newly developed Orkney Nature Prescription Calendar and can’t wait to introduce it to our patients during consultations. We are confident that nature prescribing will enhance our management of a wide range of physical and mental health conditions. Patients are therefore encouraged to ask their doctor or nurse about nature prescribing during discussion of treatment options for any new or long-term health condition.”

The Orkney-specific Nature Prescription Calendar has been produced to support patients in deepening their connection to their local natural world. Suggested activities include listening out for different bird calls, selecting an outdoor spot close to home to regularly sit with nature and observe any changes with the seasons, keeping a ‘nature diary’, and observing the small details in nature such as the movement of light and shadows.

Samantha Stringer, Species on the Edge People Engagement Officer in Orkney, said, “Taking the time to connect with nature allows us to reflect and helps us slow down to notice and experience not just nature, but ourselves. We become more mindful, and our curiosity opens to see new things that encourage, inspire and delight us – extraordinary moments in the ordinary.

“We hope that Nature Prescriptions can provide personal and meaningful connections, improving physical and mental wellbeing and complementing other health interventions. We have included accessible activities for a range of patients and conditions which may include mental health, chronic pain, and long-term health issues.

“Each month there are ten activities to try, many of which can be done simply from a window, a small garden, or in a local area. And this year Species on the Edge are going beyond the calendar to run a series of free wellbeing events linked to some of the monthly activity suggestions.”

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