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The Green Exercise Partnership (GEP) is a joint venture between Forestry Commission Scotland, NHS Health Scotland, NHS National Services Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage. It was established in 2007 to improve links between the environment and health sectors in Scotland. It was developed in response to increasing evidence that public health can be improved through the use of the outdoors for physical activity and contact with nature. Demonstration projects have been set up at a number of hospital sites and have included improvements to existing NHS estate woodlands and greenspace including active greenspace management, new and improved footpaths, seating and interpretation. A small number of greenspace for health project officer posts have been created to work with staff and patients in the hospital greenspaces. The GEP requested research to establish the views and perceptions of corporate decision makers, estates managers, and clinicians at a number of hospital sites where an NHS greenspace demonstration project has been developed. The focus of the research is on the impacts and opportunities of greening the NHS estate.
The results highlight very positive views of NHS greenspace from the majority of interviewees. This is perhaps unsurprising given that all have been involved in a NHS greenspace demonstration project. Interviewees stated that NHS greenspace can contribute across a range of policies such as health, biodiversity, energy, although many felt the focus should be on health. The key priorities that NHS greenspace can potentially contribute to were identified as physical activity, mental well-being, reduction in length of hospital stay, and contribution to creating less obesegenic environments. Beneficiaries of NHS greenspace were identified as patients, staff, visitors and local communities; however patients and staff were viewed as the priority. There was a strong realisation of the difficulties of monitoring and evaluating these types of complex interventions with a suggestion that a mixed methods approach might be most suitable as there would be difficulties quantifying and monetising many of the benefits gained by the beneficiaries.
The results illustrate that there is potential for greenspace design to be stipulated as an essential requirement for retrofitting existing healthcare facilities, and in the creation of any new hospital facilities.
A strategic approach should be undertaken as there are clearly priority hospital sites near large centres of population with a good greenspace resource to work with for the GEP to focus on.
The GEP work should demonstrate where NHS greenspace has been carried out and how, provide details, proactively advocate the approach, and provide guidance and support for sites that might want to take this up. There are opportunities to publicise what has already been done through existing health networks and strategic meetings. This is already taking place and is on-going.
Further interviews are planned at more hospitals in Scotland and a new briefing note will be developed synthesising the results from the research.
Reports on hospital greenspace demonstration projects are available:
The work is being carried out by the Social and Economic Research Group in collaboration with the Green Exercise Partnership and is one element of the work being undertaken by the partnership.
(includes short films and talking heads of the demonstration projects)