Exploring perceptions of green social prescribing among clinicians and the public

Published 30th March 2023

Executive summary

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) commissioned IFF Research to gather robust evidence on perceptions and behaviours related to green social prescribing (GSP). IFF conducted 2 surveys:

  • one with 4,000 patients or potential users of GSP services
  • one with 501 clinicians

This was followed by some qualitative in-depth interviews to gain further insight into how GSP could be scaled up as an intervention.

Overall, the appetite for (green) social prescribing is high among both clinicians and the public:

  • nearly all clinicians would refer patients to social prescribers in the future
  • the majority of patients are open to discussing opportunities for mental health support in their local community with a healthcare professional, including spending time in nature

It is common for both audiences to regularly spend time in nature already, with the majority doing so at least weekly. This is a relatively ‘privileged’ activity: those with higher income, with no disabilities and in good overall health are likely to spend time in nature more frequently. Unsurprisingly, access also plays a significant role: those living in more rural areas spend time in nature more frequently. The public recognise that spending time in nature improves both their mental and physical health.

Clinicians do not always know or conceive of GSP as an intervention distinct from social prescribing in general: while most are aware and have previous experience of social prescribing, fewer could say the same for GSP. The public are also generally aware that their healthcare professional can refer them to non-medical support but it was relatively uncommon for patients to have prior experience of being referred to an organised nature-based activity. It was more typical for those seeking support for their mental health to have been given a more informal recommendation by their healthcare professional, such as to ‘try to get outside’.

Both clinicians and the public feel the potential benefits of GSP for improving patient mental health are clear. They also feel there are distinct benefits to be gained from spending time in nature compared to other interventions available through social prescribing – such as the outside world giving perspective to, and relief from, their thoughts. The specific type of activity that patients would be open to participating in depends on their individual preferences.

Clinicians see green social prescribing as part of a holistic approach to patient care, as do patients, that is an intervention which can work alongside more traditional interventions, such as medication or therapy. However, a significant minority of clinicians believe that patients would prefer more traditional interventions, which can discourage clinicians from talking to patients about nature-based activities.

Fewer clinicians see benefits from GSP to the wider health system, such as reduced patient need for additional services. Some feel it is too early to say due to the current modest scale of GSP and that additional investment into community services is needed to enable GSP to make an impact in this way.

Currently, the most common barrier to making a referral to a nature-based activity for clinicians is a lack of knowledge of how to refer. This is particularly the case for non-GPs, reflecting a difference in referral route: non-GPs tend not to have direct access to a social prescriber in their team. More information on who their nearest social prescriber is and the process for referring to them would help.

Clinicians also feel they currently lack knowledge of local nature-based activities which patients can take part in and would value more information on the availability of specific services or activities in the local area to which they can refer patients. They feel that feedback on patient outcomes following referral to a nature-based activity would be helpful to more accurately gauge the success of this as an intervention – at the moment they tend to only hear from patients where a referral has not been successful and the patient has returned to see them.

Similarly to clinicians, patients do not feel they have enough information on what options are available to them locally. Some also face barriers which would need addressing, both practical and attitudinal: some are concerned about the potential cost or logistical difficulty of taking part, while others lack confidence to go alone.

In line with how social prescribing is designed to work, clinicians feel that their role is to tell patients about potential non-medical options of support in the community, including nature-based ones, and to direct them to a social prescriber. It is then the responsibility of the social prescriber to explain the interventions and GSP in more detail, and to determine, along with the patient, the most suitable activity for them.

Read the full Report here:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s