Go green for better health

Gemma on the left, with her Sustainability Team colleague, Kirsten Allan, visit the pond at the Royal Alexandra Hospital which is currently being refreshed.

By Lucy Ashton

The benefits of greenspace and Scotland’s great outdoors for improving health, have been highlighted as part of this year’s World Health Day.

The theme of this year’s World Health Day, organised by the World Health Organisation, is Our Planet, Our Health, The WHO says: “On World Health Day 2022, WHO will focus global attention on urgent actions needed to keep humans and the planet healthy and foster a movement to create societies focused on well-being.

“WHO estimates that more than 13 million deaths around the world each year are due to avoidable environmental causes. This includes the climate crisis which is the single biggest health threat facing humanity. The climate crisis is also a health crisis.”

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is one of the largest public sector landowners in Scotland, with assets and estates covering much of the West of Scotland. Scotland’s biggest health board is working to increase access to its greenspace, for the benefit of patients, staff, visitors and the wider community.

Gemma Kitson, Greenspace and Urban Realm Officer at NHSGGC said: “There is increasing evidence linking access to green space with a multitude of healthcare benefits, as well as the environmental benefits that healthy, biodiverse ecosystems provide. Recognising these benefits for patients, staff, and the wider community, NHSGCC is committed to improving green space and biodiversity across its estate.

“Unfortunately, access to high quality outdoor space tends to be more limited in our most deprived areas, meaning the distribution of green space also contributes to existing health inequalities. Due to its role as an anchor organisation within some of Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s most deprived communities, NHSGGC has an opportunity to provide high quality green space which may otherwise be lacking.

“Through successful implementation of quality green space in NHSGGC estates and communities, it is possible to reduce health inequalities, and lead healthier, more active lives. This will benefit our staff, patients and surrounding communities, as well as benefiting our NHS in the long term through a reduction in unnecessary admissions, employing a “prevention rather than cure” approach.”

Historically, the grounds surrounding hospitals were a key part of the approach to treatment and rehabilitation, with orchards, gardens and even farms being commonplace – a feature which is seen on sites such as the Gartnavel Hospital Campus. Over time our understanding of the healing benefits of access to the outdoors dwindled, as advances in medicine and technology were made. However, there is now an opportunity to rediscover the health benefits that time spent in the outdoors can provide.

 Although the links between green space exposure and health are complex, there is evidence that access to high quality green space can lead to improvements in physical health such as enhanced physical activity, with associated benefits for fitness and tackling obesity; reduced exposure to air pollution; and reductions in cardiovascular morbidity, type 2 diabetes and mortality. Over the last two years, many of us have also been able to appreciate the mental health benefits of time spent in nature, which include reduced stress; improved social cohesion; and improved mental health and cognitive function.

Gemma added: “We have a fantastic programme of greenspace improvement projects, with works currently underway at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow and at Paisley’s Royal Alexandra Hospital.

“The aim of these projects is to provide vibrant, appealing outdoor spaces, which encourage staff, patients and members of the community to spend time outside. This could include holding meetings outside, going for a walk during break times, taking patients outside for exercise and rehabilitation, and encouraging members of the wider community to make use of the outdoor estate through partnerships with third sector and volunteering organisations.

“We want all of our communities to flourish and across our hospital estates, there’s lots of outdoor, greenspace where that can grow.”

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