A team from the University of Exeter and University of Plymouth are conducting a feasibility study of nature-based activities reached through social prescribing. The work is funded by have been awarded funds by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and will help prepare for a full Randomised Controlled Trial which will help clarify whether such activities are effective in protecting and improving the mental health of participants with diagnosed conditions such as depression and anxiety. The team are working with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and Newquay Orchard.
Social prescribing, which is increasingly used in the UK, involves GPs referring people living with mental ill-health to community activities as part of their treatment. Frequently Link Workers help patients identify activities that may suit them. They might choose: community choirs; volunteering opportunities; physical activity; or nature-based activities.
Nature-based social prescribing is what is known as a complex intervention. It uses several stages of consultation and referral to allocate people to interventions, each of which may involve different types of activities, taking place in different localities, organised and led in different ways. Before undertaking a full trial, it is important to ensure the plans for that research are feasible, appropriate and acceptable, so that the outcomes of the RCT will be meaningful.
The team will design a research plan which will include defining the target population, determining the most appropriate measurable outcomes and identifying a comparison group. To do this the team will consult with people already involved in social prescribing including: GPs, Link Workers, and nature-based activity providers. By advertising the study through these partners, we will recruit some of their service users to assess whether our plans will be acceptable to participants in the future RCT.
The plan will be tested with a small number of GPs, nature-based activity providers and their participants to make sure it is appropriate and feasible. This will ensure that the processes are sound and achievable, that we are able to recruit enough people to the study, and that questionnaires used to measure impact are appropriate.
The outcome of the study will be a fully designed protocol, a detailed plan, for a future RCT which will assess the effectiveness of nature-based social prescribing for people with mental ill-health.