Changing the conversation about health

Cycling and walking to be prescribed by GPs in a bid to improve the nation’s health

A new NHS social prescribing initiative will see doctors advising patients to take walks or go on cycle rides in a bid to improve their heath.

The new pilot scheme was announced earlier this week and will be rolled out nationwide later in the year, in a bid to reduce UK rates of cancer, cardiac diseases and diabetes, and also reduce pollution caused by congestion on the country’s roads.

The NHS pilot scheme will be rolled out across England, and its impact monitored until 2025 (Image: Pixabay/MabelAmber)

A pot of £12.7million will be shared out amongst 11 local authorities by The Department for Transport, used to fund walking groups, bicycle training courses for all abilities and loan schemes to make cycling more readily available.

Those who use wheelchairs or mobility scooters will also be able to access exercise classes and mental health sessions with the money.

The pilot will target cities and regions in the UK until 2025, with the scheme’s impact monitored for improvements in community health for people living near Bath and north-east Somerset, Bradford, Cornwall, Cumbria, Doncaster, Gateshead, Leeds, Nottingham, Plymouth, Suffolk and Staffordshire.

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The project is a collaboration between several government departments and agencies including NHS England, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, Sport England, National Academy for Social Prescribing, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Department for Health and Social Care.

The Conservative minister for walking and cycling, Trudy Harrison, said the potential benefits are multiple – including health and environment boosts.

She said: ‘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.’

It’s hoped that by encouraging people to take healthy walks, the environment will also benefit

Former Team GB cyclist Chris Boardman, commissioner of National Active Travel, the Government’s agency designed to improve the country’s cycling and walking infrastructure, is also backing the scheme.

Among the scheme’s main backers is former Olympic gold medal cyclist Chris Boardman, who is now commissioner of National Active Travel, an executive agency set up by the Government to improve the UK’s cycling and walking infrastructure.

He said: ‘As a nation we need healthier, cheaper and more pleasant ways to get around for everyday trips.

‘Moving more will 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.’

Health minister Maria Caulfield added: ‘Getting active is hugely beneficial for both our mental and physical health, helping reduce stress and ward off other illness such as heart disease and obesity.

‘The UK is leading the way in embedding social prescribing in our NHS and communities across the country.’