Building a greener NHS in partnership
14 June 2021
By Hayley Carmichael
Gabriel Pol is a member of the Experts by Experience Group at Sussex Partnership; a lifetime of interest in the natural world has evolved into an interesting project for creating a greener NHS.
A commitment to more sustainable healthcare
Sussex Partnership is working hard to reduce its impact on the environment through a programme of work called Care Without Carbon. As part of that within SPFT there are several working groups looking as aspects of healthcare delivery and how they need to change to help the Trust cut its carbon footprint.
Gabe got involved with the clinical sustainability group through his initial role as an Expert by Experience (EBE), and additionally with the Working Together Groups. Both offer service users the opportunity to have a voice and input into future service design.
Taking it one step at a time
He said, “So, when I came out of Millview in 2019 I really wanted to do something for SPFT. I was going to be a ward befriender but the pandemic stopped that, and I heard about EBE (which is a mixture of service users and carers). It is incredible being able to be part of it and contribute in that way. The working together groups are great for feeling like you have a voice, and then ideas get passed on to help make them happen.”
“If you are doing EBE and Working Together you get to know people at SPFT, and I’d cite Alex Garner who is the People Participation Lead as a key person for me. People noticed I was interested in sustainability (I’m doing an MA in sustainable design) and I was invited to a meeting about rewilding some spaces at Waterhall on the edge of Brighton. Through this I got to know Dr Sharon Cuthbert who invited me to the Clinical Sustainability Group.”
From an initial MSc in European Landscape Planning, Gabe got interested in Gaia Theory, which then led to an opportunity to work on sustainable development in Zanzibar in the late 1990s. But with not a lot changing to tackle climate change it became too demoralising and as he explains, “I came to Brighton and started to work in landscaping and garden design, being in a green space was good for me. It’s massively part of how I see the world.”
Using nature to help us heal
Gabe is passionate about the value of green spaces for health. He told us, “I see how people can benefit from nature. I’m involved in a social prescribing project. Sam Robinson (SPFT research and development) is supporting me with this as part of my MA. My aim is to develop a model of engagement, so the Trust at a local level can work with local community garden/green space groups, and help service users access them for their recovery. It is really a design for a social innovation model, which if proven at local level, can then be adapted to work at a national level.”
Gabe has broadened his perspective on what sustainability means since starting the MA, especially since learning about the UN Sustainable Development Goals. He said, “They really broadened my perspective. Climate justice is such a big thing – or rather the injustice of it. Deprived areas have less green spaces and that is where people need them more. Green connectivity really interested me. So that is what I am working on now, creating those links between healthcare, green spaces and the people that can benefit.”
Showing the value
Gabe is clear that without funding things can’t change, and where you want funding you have to demonstrate value. “I think, Sam Robinson said my project would work if I quantified the results as less people in the hospital. That is the value; if you can start to put figures on the savings. Rewild all the hospital grounds, have beautiful paths and benches, give service users the chance to get into the grounds as a wild place. Even just looking at it out of the window. That can help aid recovery. But you do need to invest in creating those spaces. Funding is the biggest challenge. You need to demonstrate payback, a visible and quantifiable return. It might be hard to quantify but there are ways we can do this.”