The well-greened, newly redeveloped Southmead Hospital in Bristol was a fitting venue for this year’s NHS Forest Conference, designed to bring together a wide variety of organisations and disciplines with the common aims of improving green space surrounding hospitals and highlighting the well-documented links between access to the natural world and increased wellbeing.
Organised by the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, the not-for-profit organisation that set up NHS Forest in 2008, the conference of around 100 delegates was an opportunity to share ideas and hear how professionals working in and around the NHS are striving to improve patient recuperation and staff wellbeing through access to good quality outside green areas.
Sarah Dandy, NHS Forest coordinator for Southmead Hospital, summed up the achievements of NHS Forest so far: around 57,000 trees have been planted on 180 sites across the country, several health routes created and valuable research carried out into the link between mental wellbeing and proximity to waterways.
Long term investment in health
Alan Carter of charity The Land Trust showcased the Countess of Chester Country Park project, its award winning 19-hectare green space created around the city’s hospital to give visitors a peaceful spot to access nature and take part in a variety of outdoor organised activities. He emphasised the need for a long-term approach for projects like this – benefits in terms of health, education and social cohesion take time to embed and funding must be long term to maintain improvements.
Andy Netherton and Dominic Gallagher from SW Public Health England, focused on the importance of workplace wellbeing. Their statistics for annual sick leave showed a startlingly high incidence of musculoskeletal problems - 31 million working days lost in 2013 - and of mental health issues, which cost companies 15 million working days in the same year.
A breath of fresh air
Break-out group sessions in the afternoon were challenged to come up with innovative ideas to improve access to nature for NHS staff and the resulting ideas reflected the wide range of professions represented, from landscape architects to health practitioners, local authorities, academics, students, and charities involved in health and wildlife. Although time is clearly the main constraint for NHS employees, it was felt that encouragement from senior staff leading by example, backed up by designated health routes, clear signage and the use of walking meetings, could all help get staff outside more.
Brand-new Southmead Hospital is an inspiring example of how to integrate green space, trees and wildlife into a public building and the site includes well-maintained trees and open grass areas, a herb-filled roof garden with direct access from the staff canteen, a wetland area providing sustainable urban drainage and indoor trees in a spacious atrium. However, representatives from other health trusts around the country – particularly those from larger inner-city areas – pointed out the challenges of creating meaningful green spaces in an existing built environment with little room for manoeuvre.
If you are interested in supporting your staff or colleagues to access green spaces in order to benefit their wellbeing at work, you can sign the NHS Forest workplace wellbeing charter https://sustainablehealthcare.us3.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=807344ae519f8fd3b2f2dd2e4&id=10be68a5b1
- Trees and Design Action Group (TDAG) was set up to increase awareness of the role of trees in the built environment. http://www.tdag.org.uk/
- Please get in touch with us if you need any information or help on how to develop successfully around trees and green space.