A new social prescribing scheme aims to reduce health disparities across the country
“Under this scheme, when a patient visits their local surgery with a health issue, if appropriate a health professional can talk to them about the benefits of exercise and refer them to a range of groups that can help them get cycling and walking safely." Rachel Wigglesworth, director of Public Health for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly
Patients in England with mental health problems are to be prescribed cycling and walking, under a new pilot scheme which will run until 2025.
The trial, which is designed to see if exercise can improve both physical and mental health, is being run in 11 areas across the country at a cost of £12.7m. It is targeted in particular at adults with poor mental health and wellbeing, those with long-term physical health conditions, disabled people, unemployed adults and adults over 50. The government also hopes the trial will play a role in reducing health disparities in different regions.
In each of the 11 regions, GPs will be able to offer social prescribing. Patients will have the opportunity to take part in all-ability cycling taster days, where people who may not have cycled before can learn in a supportive environment, or walking and cycling mental health groups where people can meet others also trying to get active.
The pilots fulfil a pledge made in the government’s 2020 Gear Change plan. They will evaluate the impact of cycling and walking on an individual’s health, using measures such as reduced GP appointments and reliance on medication. The scheme brings together six different organisations and departments: NHS England, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, Sport England, National Academy for Social Prescribing, Defra and the Department for Health and Social Care.
Trudy Harrison, the walking and cycling minister, said:
“Walking and cycling has so many benefits – from improving air quality in our communities to reducing congestion on our busiest streets.
“It also has an enormous positive impact on physical and mental health, which is why we have funded these projects which will get people across the country moving and ease the burden on our NHS.”
Chris Boardman, the national active travel commissioner said that “moving more” would “lead to a healthier nation, a reduced burden on the NHS, less cancer, heart disease and diabetes, as well as huge cost savings. This trial aims to build on existing evidence to show how bringing transport, active travel and health together can make a positive impact on communities across England.”
One of the local authority areas to take part is Cornwall, which is to receive £840,000 to run the pilot. Rachel Wigglesworth, director of Public Health for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, said: “Under this scheme, when a patient visits their local surgery with a health issue, if appropriate a health professional can talk to them about the benefits of exercise and refer them to a range of groups that can help them get cycling and walking safely.”
The 11 local authorities taking part in the trial are:
In England, about 15m people have a long-term health condition. An ageing population has led to an increase in numbers with illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension, and since the pandemic there has been a sharp rise in the number of people with mental health problems. Exercise and the opportunity to mix with others have both been shown to have a positive impact on physical and mental health, and a shift away from drugs and towards social prescribing is to be welcomed. If successful, this pilot could lead to the social prescribing model being adopted more widely, improving people’s wellbeing and reducing the burden on the NHS.