Prescribing Nature

There has been plenty of talk at COP26 about nature-based solutions. As part of this, 133 countries have pledged their commitment to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. Pakistan, for example has unveiled an Ecosystem Restoration Initiative to plant 188.88 million trees in just three years.

The sun shining through a majestic green oak tree on a meadow, with clear blue sky in the background,

What has this got to do with green and resilient health systems? We are wholly dependent on biodiversity and healthy ecosystems - for clean air, water, soils, shelter, medicines, food, regu­lation of disease, climate, and extreme weather events. It’s so fundamental, that most of the time we don’t think about how dependent we are. But there is another way that healthcare uses nature: as a companion for healing.

Nature based social prescribing, is enjoying a renaissance. Patients are being referred out of clinical pathways to nature-based interventions better suited to their needs. New Zealand leads this approach, with most GPs reporting they have prescribed nature over medication since ‘green prescriptions’ were introduced in 1998. Of the patients who used it, 71% said their long-term health improved. Paediatricians have been prescribing time in nature for their patients – a specific amount of time, over a specific period, in parks or outdoor spaces. Cardiac physiotherapists have been offering health walks outdoors for patients who suffered a heart attack. The health benefits of horticultural therapy, hospital gardens, and time in blue/green spaces are rapidly gaining recognition as a cost-effective solution providing positive health outcomes.

Lockdown, fear, and uncertainty through COVID19 has highlighted how desperately we all need such time. A green and resilient health system is a system that understands value and success is not just measured on the balance sheet.

The Nossal Institute is writing a series of thought pieces to coincide with COP26 to discuss developments in the area of health and climate change. We will be reflecting on our contribution and invite discussion from you on how health systems can enable genuine planetary health.

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Dr Gillian LĂȘ