NHS Lothian staff holding plants they have found during a nature prescriptions workshop

December 6, 2023

Bringing Nature into the Western General Hospital

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NHS Lothian Charity’s Green Health programme and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) have completed a 7-month pilot project at the Western General Hospital, aiming to integrate nature prescriptions into healthcare practices.

Research underscores nature’s role in reducing stress, and pain and enhancing emotional wellbeing, but people are often disconnected from the natural environment when in a hospital. Since May 2023, the project has focused on establishing tangible ways for patients and staff to connect with nature on the wards, thereby promoting overall wellbeing.

Engagement in these nature-connection activities has proven beneficial for both staff and patients. The project’s close collaboration with clinical teams in the Medicine for the Elderly Wards has begun to integrate these activities into patient care.

Staff participation in therapeutic sessions aimed to reduce stress, blood pressure and anxiety levels. Moreover, staff received training that offered practical insights into supporting patient’s wellbeing and incorporating nature into the caregiving environment and, guidance on creating a greener hospital space.

A staff member shared,

“I feel that the workshops have brought a very different dimension to my life and I really appreciate having my eyes open to what nature has to offer us all. My walks and runs are more attentive now to what’s going on around me. I find myself stopping to look at birds, insects etc and think more about their purpose. I am also reading more about nature and the benefits it can bring to your health and wellbeing. I have a better sense of wellbeing and a much greater appreciation and connection to nature and the great outdoors.”

Recognising that some wards may have limited access to outdoor spaces, the focus was on diversifying daily activities by bringing nature to day rooms or bedside areas. Patients were offered opportunities to engage with nature through sensory-based activities, such as listening to bird song, exploring textures of plants and stones, and smelling fresh herbs. To share their memories of natural locations that are important to them and record these visually so they can revisit them through mindfulness practice. They also applied nature images to their windows.

A patient expressed,

“These stickers bring a splash of colour to my room and make me feel a bit more free- imaging I can fly with the birds or the butterflies.”

To further embed these practices in the healthcare environment, a guide has been shared across the hospital. This guide supports staff in introducing various activities to their wards through different seasons, ensuring the sustained integration of nature-centric practices.

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Our Impact Report provides a short summary of this project and outcomes

Belhaven Community Hospital Garden - image by John Sinclair