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Could horticulture hold the key to easing the pressure on the NHS?

A leading group of UK horticultural organisations is bringing together representatives from the worlds of public health, politics, academia and horticulture to develop a shared vision of the role horticulture can play in the treatment of some chronic health conditions.

The Health and Horticulture Conference, which will take place at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show on 4 July, is the first time that such a range of experts have come together to look at the most effective way of making the case for horticulture to be a widespread treatment available across the NHS.

Organised by the Ornamental Horticulture Roundtable group, which is made up of leaders from the UK’s £10 billion ornamental horticulture industry and includes the RHS, the Horticultural Trades Association and the NFU*, the conference is the culmination of a year’s work by the group to build bridges between the sector, the medical profession and policy makers.

Among the 15 speakers on the day will be the former CEO of the National Health Service, Lord Crisp, who will open the conference; Dr Justin Varney from Public Health England; Dr William Bird, who is a GP with a special interest in the promotion of physical activity and the creator of the ‘Green Gym’ concept; award winning garden designer Chris Beardshaw and Gavin Atkins from mental Health charity Mind.

The conference will take place against a backdrop of spiralling costs across the NHS for the treatment of conditions such as obesity, heart diseases and some mental health issues. At present 40% of the Department of Health budget is focused on tackling these conditions. Almost £50 billion is spent by the NHS on managing chronic conditions that could be alleviated by the adoption of healthier lifestyles.

Speaking about the conference and the role horticulture therapy can play in the fight against chronic health conditions, RHS director of science Dr Alistair Griffiths said: “There is a growing acknowledgement that horticulture and gardening can play an important role in alleviating the impact of conditions including obesity and dementia, but this hasn’t been translated into a growth in commissioning services in this area.

“By bringing together interested parties we hope to not only share a wide range of opinions about the impact gardening can have on health outcomes, but also break down the barriers that have kept potential allies apart. The reality is we all want the same thing, we are just going about it in different ways.

“We hope that by creating a set of principles that we can all agree with, research in this area will be better coordinated, better focused and more robust, which will benefit patients, doctors and UK’s health infrastructure.”

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