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Why we need the Natural Health Service

7 January 2019 by Gideon Ben-Tovim

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Seeing the natural environment as a crucial source of wellbeing is something that we all intuitively know; we all feel better from a walk in the park or round a lake... and yet this is still an area of innovation for the health service.

There is, in some parts of the NHS, a relatively well-established pathway of ‘exercise for health’ - normally indoors in a gym - to support the after care and recovery of certain categories of patients.

But prescribing a course of mindful contact with nature, or horticultural therapy, or practical conservation volunteering, or healthy walking - all strands of ‘green prescribing’ - is not yet seen as routine good practice in prevention or recovery.

Yet there is now a mass of evidence to suggest that the Natural Health Service approach, i.e. engagement with nature for adults, or for children via a Forest School, can have enormous benefits in helping deal with stress and anxiety and in aiding recovery, as well as providing an enjoyable source of physical activity and social contacts to combat isolation and loneliness.

Indeed, Mersey Forest have recently commissioned an academic Impact Report providing solid evidence of the value of their Nature 4 Health initiative.

The Innovation Agency is pleased to be supporting the Liverpool City Region Year of the Environment by organising on the 28th January a conference on ‘Health, Wellbeing and the Environment - Opportunities and Challenges’, with a range of expert national, regional and local speakers.

The overall aim of the Innovation Agency is to find, support and spread innovative ideas, products, measures, devices, inventions and ways of working that will improve the health and wellbeing of our citizens.

We hope our conference on 28th January will deepen our understanding of the importance and value of nature to help improve health, and suggest practical steps that can be taken within and without the NHS to promote this agenda.

We also know that, on the negative side, poor air quality is one of the biggest dangers to health, especially affecting more disadvantaged sectors of the community, so we will also need to consider steps being taken to mitigate this serious  problem that has in recent times become much more widely acknowledged.

So do come to the conference! It should be a great day in the beautiful environment of the Isla Gladstone Conservatory.

Over the course of Liverpool City Region’s Year of the Environment, we hope all health colleagues - and colleagues from other sectors - will play their part in joining with us in exploring innovative ways of ensuring that all of our community has access to the best quality environment, and they are able to reap all the health benefits this can bring.

The conference is free and places can be booked here.

Gideon Ben-Tovim OBE is the Chair of the Innovation Agency and advisor on the natural environment to Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram.

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