Doctors should prescribe gardening for patients more often, says report

Those with cancer, dementia and mental health problems can benefit from gardening, according to health thinktank

Doctors should prescribe gardening far more often for patients with cancer, dementia and mental health problems, the NHS has been urged in a new report.

Outdoor spaces including gardens can reduce social isolation among older people as well as help patients recover and manage conditions such as dementia, according to the influential King’s Fund health thinktank.

Jane Ellison, the public health minister, backed the plan, which could see GPs in particular advising patients to spend more time outside as a way of alleviating their symptoms. “[Gardening] is profoundly good for you … [it] is a great way of keeping people active, of keeping them outside and keeping their sense of wellbeing very high,” she said. “There are things we can do around physical activity in particular that bring immediate payback ... I’m trying to put this right across the agenda of dementia and cancer.”

Parts of the country are already investing in this more social approach to health at primary care level and in some places, such as the Bromley by Bow Centre in London, GPs are already prescribing gardening. Such schemes have been proven to reduce patients’ need to see a GP or attend A&E, enhance wellbeing and even promote better sleep.

Schemes that use this type of social prescribing focus on mental health and wellbeing as much as physical health, including through reducing social isolation and strengthening community bonds.

“Social prescribing schemes, by their nature, vary considerably but generally provide a way for GPs and other primary care professionals to offer or signpost to non-clinical referral options instead of, or alongside, clinical ones,” says the report’s author, David Buck.

Up to 20% of GPs’ time is spent on problems with social causes, and social prescribing could be a way to manage increasing demands on the NHS, including pressures on GPs’ time.

In Lambeth in London, a group of patients, doctors, nurses and local residents have created a network of food-growing gardens in 11 GP surgeries and other sites, including King’s College hospital, where patients learn how to grow food, which is then sold to the hospital to feed patients.

Horatio’s Garden, a national charity, has designed gardens at Salisbury hospital to help in the rehabilitation of spinal injury patients, meanwhile. And, outside spaces and gardens can be important elements in improving end-of-life care for the half a million people who die in England each year, half of whom die in hospital.

Dementia patients can benefit from being near a garden and one study cited in the report found a 19% reduction in violence in patients staying in garden sites and a sevenfold increase in violence in the non-garden sites during a year. Many studies suggest that a garden changes how residents, staff and visitors interact in the long term and can help people reconnect with their past interests.

Gardens can also reduce levels of depression, loneliness, anxiety and stress, help improve older people’s balance, and have benefits for a range of conditions including heart disease and obesity, the report, commissioned by the National Gardens Scheme (NGS), shows.

Mary Berry, president of the NGS, said: “I have long been aware of the therapeutic benefits of gardening – you don’t need pills so get out in the garden and enjoy it. It’s essential ... ”

At a time when the health service, local government and social care are under severe pressure to cut costs, commissioning inexpensive and effective methods of treatment is seen as an simple way of improving the nation’s health.

Ellison added that it was important to be sensible and pragmatic in the way evidence is used. “For me, there is a different evidential bar in something like social prescribing for people to get out doing gardening than there is for a vastly expensive new cancer drug.”

George Plumptre, chief executive of the National Gardens Scheme, said that this report was the first to pull together all the evidence showing the benefits of gardening for physical and mental health.

He said: “This could be, in the future, a really important plank for public health policy. There are enormous benefits on offer. For the first time, we’ve got some clear recommendations for policy … Active gardeners all know it’s good for you but what we haven’t been able to do is make that quantum leap to public policy.”


Sarah Johnson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
NHS postcode lottery survey reveals wide UK disparities
NHS Atlas of Variation, a government analysis of regional treatment, shows huge inequalities in quality, quantity and costs

Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor

09, Dec, 2011 @5:22 PM

Article image
Women often feel patronised by doctors, health minister says
‘Overwhelmingly male’ environment is affecting treatment of common issues

Haroon Siddique

29, Jun, 2018 @2:43 PM

Article image
Arts can help recovery from illness and keep people well, report says
All-party inquiry demonstrates benefits to health and wellbeing of the arts, leading to fall in hospital admissions

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

19, Jul, 2017 @3:34 PM

Article image
Doctors should order more blood cancer tests, MPs say
TV presenter Simon Thomas, whose wife died from a rare form of blood cancer last year, is calling for better training of GPs

Nadia Khomami

17, Jan, 2018 @5:10 PM

Article image
What doctors won't do

From steroids to sleeping tablets, IVF to the flu jab – doctors reveal the treatments they would avoid

19, Jan, 2013 @9:00 AM

Article image
GPs could prescribe bingo and dancing after English trial's success
One practice prescribing activities saw 20% cut in hospital outpatient admissions

Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent

18, Nov, 2018 @3:01 PM

Article image
Capita’s cancer screening blunder hits 50,000 NHS patients
NHS contractor’s failure to send out cervical cancer test results condemned as ‘gross incompetence’

Haroon Siddique

14, Nov, 2018 @2:55 PM

Article image
Treatment delays leave UK facing cancer emergency, doctors warn
Clinicians warn of the UK’s ‘biggest cancer crisis ever’ as record-breaking treatment waiting times have become normalised

Andrew Gregory Health editor

14, Dec, 2022 @11:30 PM

Article image
As a GP, I already look for signs of dementia in high-risk patients | Zara Aziz
Zara Aziz: Offering GPs £55 per new diagnosis fails to fund the urgent support patients and their families need to manage the condition

Zara Aziz

11, Nov, 2014 @1:00 PM

Article image
Dementia care given priority in new NHS training guidelines
Department of Health training blueprint promises to give NHS education unprecedented focus and importance

Andrew Sparrow

27, May, 2013 @11:01 PM