GPs: invest in trees and green space now to reduce pressure on the NHS

Policymakers must prioritise the environment to improve the health of the nation and ease pressure on the NHS, say doctors.

New research by conservation charity the Woodland Trust reveals 96% per cent of GPs surveyed want the Government to take action to combat health threats from climate change and extreme weather.

And the poll of 255 doctors from practices across the country shows 70% say they should be able to prescribe time out in nature to ensure the health of future generations.

The survey reveals 77% of GPs believe more trees could help reduce the financial burden on the NHS and 94% are calling for more trees around urban schools to combat lung diseases like asthma.

Previous research has found significantly lower asthma rates among children aged four to five in areas with more street trees.*

Almost half of doctors (45%) have seen a rise in patients reporting climate anxiety in the past 12 months, with the survey results clearly showing that against the backdrop of a changing climate, improving the environment must be integral to safeguarding people’s future health. 

Dr Darren Moorcroft, chief executive of the Woodland Trust said: “This powerful research, from trusted medical professionals, shows the need to prioritise the environment to reduce the burden on the NHS and save lives.

 “Policymakers must take heed of these results. A startling 96% of GPs – who are on the frontline of healthcare in this country – want environmental issues moved up the political agenda.

“They recognise the potentially life-giving benefits of a cleaner, greener world, ever more important due to the greater effects of climate change – and want their patients to be able to access those benefits more easily.”

Trish Goodwin, Link Worker for Bolton GP Federation said: “This poll clearly shows how GPs value the important role of nature and the environment in helping to reduce the pressure on their services and the NHS in general, with the changing climate we believe it should be a priority. From our perspective, people that attend green projects, such as walking in rural locations, report an improvement in physical health symptoms, and state that there is a significant improvement in their mental wellbeing. It is critical that patients living in urban and high pollution areas have access to woodland and green spaces to improve both their physical and mental health”.

Climate change is causing more extreme weather conditions, with heatwaves claiming thousands of lives each year. Trees can help reduce temperatures on the ground by up to 12 degrees. Doubling urban tree cover from 15% to 30% could lower average city temperatures by 0.4°C, and in some areas by as much as 5.9°C, potentially saving thousands of lives.

The Woodland Trust has urged people to join doctors in backing its climate campaign to get more trees in the ground to fight the twin threats of climate change and biodiversity loss. There are two ways to get involved – buy and plant a tree from their online Tree Shop or sign up to their monthly enewsletter.

Dr Moorcroft added: “We know it’s going to take more than trees to solve the climate crisis, but we won’t have a world worth living in without billions more of them. We have made it our mission here in the UK to plant 50 million more trees by 2030.

“Woods and trees make us healthy and happy. They lock up carbon, fight the effects of climate change, improve our health and wellbeing and reduce pollution and flooding, protecting nature, people and our planet. This is why we are asking for people to support our climate campaign to plant more trees.”

The survey results, from research carried out among GPs from Dynata’s UK Healthcare Panel, come hot on the heels of the launch of a new tree equity app** which the Woodland Trust has developed in partnership with American Forests, which shows that in areas of lower tree cover there are less positive health outcomes. The app will allow a more targeted approach to tree planting in areas most in need.

With a general election looming, the Woodland Trust is calling on political parties to make increasing native tree cover a long-term target.

Among their election asks the Woodland Trust is looking for:

-A new long-term target to increase native tree canopy cover in England to 16%, supported by a minimum canopy cover requirement of 30% for new development. Currently less than a fifth of counties meet that target.

-A £100 million Woods for People Fund to buy land and create woodland that’s accessible, publicly owned and wildlife-rich where this is currently lacking.

-targeted funding to help local authorities produce and update their tree strategies and ensure they have the staff and skills to plant and manage trees. 

 -investment in commercial, local authority and community tree nurseries to rapidly expand the supply of UK and Ireland sourced and grown trees. This will support objectives for conservation and the urban environment, mitigate the risk of introducing pests and diseases, and create viable green jobs.

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