Social prescribing pilots scheme launches

Applications have opened to deliver four ‘green social prescribing’ pilots as part of a £4.27 million project to improve mental health and well-being in communities hardest hit by coronavirus.

The project, first announced in July by Environment Secretary George Eustice, will examine how to scale-up green social prescribing services in England to help improve mental health outcomes, reduce health inequalities and alleviate demand on the health and social care system.

The fund is now officially open and Defra has said that Expressions of Interest to become a ‘test and learn’ site are welcome from partnerships of local health, care and environment leads.

Social prescribing connects people to community groups and agencies for practical and emotional support and to improve health and well-being. Evidence from Natural England shows that the NHS could save over £2 billion in treatment costs if everyone in England had equal access to good quality green space.

Green prescribing could include support for walking and cycling groups, green gyms, and practical habitat management conservation tasks such as tree planting. For more vulnerable groups, it could include supported visits to local green space, activities such as gardening, and other outdoor activities to reduce isolation and loneliness.

Four sites will be chosen from a range of locations across England which have been the hardest hit by coronavirus, focusing on areas with the greatest need and potential for impact, including to support recovery from coronavirus.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “We know that connecting with nature is good for us, and the pandemic has given us an even greater awareness of the link between our own health, and that of our environment. I am delighted to open funding for these trailblazing projects which will test how we can increase use of green social prescribing services to improve the nation’s mental health and reduce demand on our health system.”

The projects will be jointly managed by Defra, Department of Health and Social Care, Natural England, NHS England and NHS Improvement, Public Health England, and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure value for money and that a robust evidence base is being developed.