Trainee GPs encouraged to prescribe a bigger dose of nature

Two adults and a child walking through a woodland

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW) are piloting training sessions for trainee GPs on why connecting patients to nature is good for their health and well-being.

Evidence and research from around the world shows that spending time in the natural environment has many health and well-being benefits.

People are often more active outdoors, which can guard against obesity, type 2 diabetes, and improve core muscle strength and balance. Daylight increases Vitamin D in the body, which regulates mood and prevents bone problems. The immune system also benefits from exposure to microbes found in soil, with studies showing a reduced rate of asthma in children exposed to ‘farm-like’ bacteria.

The natural environment is good for the mind too. For people living with dementia, being outside engages the senses, sparks memories, and lifts mood which may slow their symptoms.

Connecting to nature also benefits the environment by helping to prevent the loss of environmental knowledge over time. For future generations to value and protect nature and its resources, environmental knowledge and understanding needs to be passed down through the generations.

To demonstrate the health and well-being benefits of being in the natural environment, NRW has been working in partnership with HEIW to deliver a pilot training session on the value of nature to the GP Training Programme Directors in Wales.

This session was piloted with trainee GPs at the Nevil Hall Postgraduate Centre in Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, as part of their curriculum. Trainee GPs were taken outdoors to experience nature-based activities in the hospital grounds as well as discussing the evidence about how nature supports health and well-being and how that can improve patient care.

The organisations will continue to work together to explore ways to include the positive impact of the natural environment on health and well-being in the trainee GP curriculum in Wales.

Sue Williams, NRW’s Health, Education and Natural Resources Team Leader, said:

“We are excited to partner with HEIW to pilot training sessions for trainee GPs and show how the outdoors can be used as a natural health service. We hope this pilot leads to a better recognition of nature’s role in supporting improved health and well-being.
“People often look at the natural environment as something separate from us, but we are very much a part of nature and benefit from a closer connection to it. It underpins health and well-being, providing clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, soil for food, land and materials for homes, and fuel for warmth.
“Nature connectedness is the extent to which people include nature as part of their identity. We have developed a natural progression model to help explain that everyone has the potential to move, step by step, from being in and connecting with the natural environment to establishing lifelong positive behaviours that will encourage people to look after themselves and the world.”

Dr Sarah Neville, Programme Director, Gwent GP Specialty Training Programme, HEIW said:

“We were inspired to partner with NRW to effectively demonstrate the positive benefits of being in nature to our trainee GPs following a session with our training directors’ group. We found that even in an urban setting of a park the relaxation and mindfulness were noticeable, which recharged and refreshed us all.
“Trainees from all three years of GP training attended and found it a universally positive experience. The trainees reported that the session made them reflect on how they could use social prescribing to tackle issues such as physical inactivity and loneliness, and how they could empower their patients to benefit from nature.”

Coed Lleol (Small Woods Wales) joined the training session to give an overview of nature-based social prescribing opportunities.

Amie Andrews, Social Forestry and Wellbeing Manager, Coed Lleol said:

“Coed Lleol were delighted to be involved in this event it was a great opportunity to share practical activities and showcase the benefits of green social prescribing for trainee GPs.
“A participant in one of our groups recently fed back that they were suffering with anxiety and depression, but had been able to stop taking their medication and develop new ways to manage their mental health, all through working with us in the woods.
“Green social prescribing can help many people experiencing these sorts of issues and alleviate the pressure on health and social care services.”

There are many qualified organisations that offer nature-based activities such as coastal school, forest school and bushcraft sessions. The new Well-being in Nature Agored Cymru qualification allows GPs to have confidence in referring patients to outdoor practitioners and will encourage more schemes in the future.

NRW cares for woodlands and National Nature Reserves all over Wales where people can connect to the natural environment and improve their health and well-being. Find a place to visit on NRW’s website.

People can find out what their own connection to nature is like on NRW’s natural progression model.