Space to Breathe: Research shows value of NHS green space for staff wellbeing

Research from the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare shows gardens and other green spaces at hospital sites have an important role to play in supporting staff wellbeing. Our year-long study, "Space to Breathe", focuses on three NHS sites that have taken steps to encourage staff to relax and recharge in green space. Staff stress has long been a critical issue for the NHS, where in 2019 more than four in 10 staff reported feeling unwell as a result of work-related stress in the last 12 months. These problems have been greatly exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, making staff wellbeing a greater priority now than ever. Our research shows that there is a strong appetite among health staff to take time outdoors - either for breaks or in the course of work - and points to a range of wellbeing benefits.

The study found:

  • At each of the sites a large majority of staff (83-89%) said they would like to spend more time in green space at their site than they currrently did. Benefits described included feeling relaxed and calm, refreshed and re-energized and positive effects on mental and physcial wellbeing. A sizable proportion of staff (44-52%) said attractive green spaces were important to them in considering where to work - suggesting that this affects recruitment and retention.
  • Staff who said they regularly spent time in their sites' green spaces during the working day reported significantly higher levels of wellbeing. The more ways in which staff said they spent time in green space at work, the higher was their reported wellbeing.
  • The most common way in which staff spent time in green space at work was taking a walk at the site during a break. This points to strong potential for encouarging informal walking, either alone or with others, an initiative that had already proved successful at one of the sites in the study.
  • While relatively few staff at each site had engaged in organised recreational activities at work, such as Qigong or gardening, those who had had lightly higher wellbeing scores than those who had not.
  • Staff who had face-to-face contact with patients spent less time in green space than those who did not. However, contact with patients was also found to predict wellbeing. This sugests that staff spending time with patients in green space enjoy a dual wellbeing benefit.

Space to Breathe was carried out in collaboration with the University of Essex and with support from the Health Foundation, an independent charity committed to bringing about better health and healthcare for people in the UK.

The research, conducted before the pandemic, explored staff experience of time in green space at work, including both benefits and barriers. For more details please see the summary briefing and full report below. You can watch the recording and presentations from the launch event on 22 October 2020 here.