The natural health service

A green vision for NHS Scotland’s outdoor estate. 

A photograph of an orchard with a gravel path winding through it. On the right hand side there is a sign saying welcome to the orchard.

(First published in 2010) Several studies in recent years have outlined the significant health benefits of using outdoor space. For most people, this is a familiar concept and something that is already part of our lives through initiatives such as community garden projects.

In our towns and cities - parks, gardens and allotments are prized spaces where people find refuge from the challenges of daily life.

Within NHS Scotland there is a lot of good work to try and integrate some of this thinking and make better use of the outdoor estate.

Social health benefits

It is estimated that one in four adults are likely to experience mental health problems at some point in their lives. There is a growing evidence base for taking advantage of the range of individual and social health and wellbeing benefits that can be achieved through outdoor activity and contact with nature.

Some of the key benefits include:

  • improved mental health and wellbeing
  • improved physical fitness
  • reduction in aggressive behaviour
  • creation of a strong immune system
  • improved recovery and mobilisation
  • reduction in length of hospital stay
  • increased patient and staff satisfaction
  • improved staff retention

Sustainability and biodiversity

Good design of the outdoor estate can provide benefits such as improved sustainability and biodiversity, meeting climate change targets, reducing maintenance and providing a wider platform for treatment. All these aspects support the Scottish Government’s vision on health and the environment outlined in Good Places Better Health (2008).

A wooden notice board in a raised bed planter with green and purple plants.

Benefits for patients

With the NHS Scotland estate currently estimated to have an asset base worth around £5 billion and with health budgets getting tighter, there is a growing need to use spaces around buildings to support the work of staff. This presents NHS Boards with an interesting opportunity on how best to capitalise on these spaces to provide real benefits for patients, staff, and the wider community.

Further reading

The Green Exercise Partnership (GEP) – A joint partnership between NHSScotland, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Forestry Commission Scotland working with NHS boards to providing advice and potential funding for greenspace projects within NHSScotland.

Greenspace Scotland – A social enterprise and an independent charitable company working with a wide range of national and local partners to improve the quality of life of people living and working in urban Scotland.

NHS Forest – A UK based charitable organisation seeking to improve the health and wellbeing of staff, patients and communities by increasing access to green space and highlighting innovative ideas to encourage the use of green space for therapeutic purposes.

Mind – A UK based mental health charity supporting an Ecotherapy approach to health. Ecotherapy is the name given to a wide range of programmes that aim to promote good mental and physical wellbeing through outdoor activity in a green environment.

How we support healthier places

Find our more about our work to support the creation of healthier and healing spaces.

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