In recently published NICE guidelines, people are to be given exercise on prescription under a Government scheme to combat soaring rates of obesity and heart disease. Ministers hope that encouraging people to spend more time at the gym will cut hospital waiting lists by making the population healthier.
The NHS workouts will be prescribed for those who are overweight and at risk of strokes and heart disease, along with sufferers of stress, back pain, osteoporosis and diabetes. Pensioners who have suffered falls or accidents will also be encouraged to use the gym to help them regain strength and confidence.
Aerobics, weight training, yoga and swimming will be available either free or at cut-price rates for up to ten weeks at a time under the schemes, 300 of which are already up and running. They are expected to cost £60,000 per 800 patients, with the funding shared between health authorities, councils and leisure companies.
As family doctors, we received Department of Health guidance on exactly what exercise we might be able to prescribe for our patients, and questions have been raised by GPs over insurance cover and legal responsibility for their patients in the gym.
The Fitness Industry Association has published a register of fully-qualified exercise specialists and gyms will take legal responsibility while people are working out.
Launching the scheme at the Sobell Fitness Centre in North London yesterday, Health Secretary Alan Milburn said: ‘It is not telling people to do exercise, it is helping people to do it if the GP thinks it is appropriate.
‘The NHS is there to help people get well and stay well. Prevention is better than cure. There is a lot of evidence that moderate exercise brings with it health benefits and in the longer term it may mean fewer people need treatment for a disease or illness.
‘GPs are under a lot of pressure and are seeing a huge number of patients. By referring people on for exercise they may improve the health of the population they serve and so ease the burden on their busy surgeries.’
Sports Minister Chris Smith said: ‘We are concerned that too few people take part in sports and leisure activities that can benefit their health.
‘This is particularly true among older people, who find it harder to find the time, or who don’t place a high value on regular physical activity.’
One third of deaths from coronary heart disease and a quarter of those from strokes could be prevented if people at risk took moderate exercise, say experts.
One in five Britons is classed as obese – a proportion of the population which has tripled in 20 years.
According to the National Audit Office, Britain’s burgeoning weight problem costs the NHS £500million in consultations, drugs and other therapies.
Around a fifth of patients who have already taken part in the schemes went on to join their gyms after their prescriptions ran out.
DMC Healthcare is committed to finding ways to deliver a ‘Healthier You’.