The need and demand for healthcare is increasing in the NHS. A large proportion of NHS resource is devoted to preventable long-term health conditions (e.g. type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease), non-severe mental health problems (e.g. depression, anxiety and social isolation) as well as non-health related problems (e.g. matters relating to housing, employment or relationship breakdowns).
Many of these problems can be addressed through non-medical interventions, such as social prescribing, to promote health, prevent disease and support individuals to cope with the stresses of everyday life. This would help to promote health and wellbeing and also reduce demand for overstretched NHS services.
At Blenheim Estate we believe that the natural resources of our land, our woodlands, green spaces and fresh air can be used as social prescriptions that promote health and wellbeing.
To explore the potential of Blenheim Estate's natural assets to promote health and wellbeing, we partnered with the University of Oxford to design and deliver a series of projects to explore how digital technology, specifically Internet of Things (IoT), can contribute to a successful programme of ‘social prescribing’ by:
Our promising results point to the huge potential of IoT-enabled social prescriptions to promote health and wellbeing while also minimising the strain on healthcare providers.
Described as “a way of linking patients in primary care with sources of support within the community to help improve their health and wellbeing”, social prescribing can address mental and physical health through physical exercise and social or creative activities. While it is recognised that a huge percentage of health issues currently putting a strain on the health system can be prevented or treated with social prescribing, this form of healthcare is still relatively underused.
The Internet of Things (IoT) describes the network of physical objects – “things” – that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data over the internet. The University of Oxford recognise that this technology can make a huge difference to the management of healthcare and we were thrilled to partner with them in key projects to demonstrate this.
The University of Oxford undertook research into the role that technology could play in supporting social prescribing, and found an overall lack of understanding of the technologies and the benefits of using the IoT. To tackle this, the team needed to put an IoT-assisted social prescribing programme into action – and that's where Blenheim Estate comes in.
Our aim is to work with healthcare providers and other partners to provide time on the Estate as a legitimate treatment to improve physical and mental health through 'social prescribing' - a relatively underused method of healthcare.
To pilot this we partnered with Aspire, an Oxfordshire-based charity supporting homeless and disadvantaged individuals, the Eden Project and the University of Oxford on the project which was funded by Research England.
The purpose of this project was to capture detailed information from local people on public greenspaces using IoT devices, to present an alternative to census data.
The project focused on designing, building and pilot-testing a prototype of a crowdsourcing smartphone app that enabled members of a community to capture information about characteristics, perception, utilisation and provision of greenspace.
It’s been proven that ‘greater biodiversity in natural spaces could provide restorative health benefits’ (Wood et al., 2019).
By understanding how biodiverse an area is, we can begin to measure its impact on the wellbeing of those who visit it, and draw a correlation between the two. We installed IoT devices called Audio Moths in locations across the estate to analyse sounds in nature.
The Blenheim estate is a vast 12,000 acre estate made up of the immediate Palace and parkland, high park – home to our ancient oaks, fields, wildlife and rivers amongst other things.
For the first time we have pulled together an interactive map which shows some of these elements. This map is a visual representation of the projects mentioned above showing all of the walking routes our social prescribing pilot participants took, locations of the AudioMoths and a number of other important features of our local community. It also includes cycle routes, public rights of way and permissive paths that are currently open on the Estate and points of interest to encourage others to use the area for their own version of social prescribing.
Over the coming months and years, we aim to grow this interactive map to include additional permissive paths and other key features of our local community.
Discover more about the routes by clicking on them to reveal more information.