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Focus on illness over wellness will bankrupt the NHS, warns health body

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson will today call for a £1bn regeneration scheme to save the NHS by transforming the UK’s ageing fleet of leisure centres into its new preventative frontline.

The Chair of not-for-profit health body ukactive is urging for the Government’s new industrial strategy to leverage cross-sector funding to replace 1970s-era leisure centres with community wellness hubs. These would combine swimming pools, gyms and sports halls, with GP drop-in centres, libraries and police services, to create a one-stop-shop for public services and empower the public to take greater responsibility for leading a healthy lifestyle.

With the health service under growing pressure to plug a £22bn funding gap by 2020, Baroness Grey-Thompson will say that putting physical activity and well-being at the heart of integrated community infrastructure is the only long-term solution to save the NHS from bankruptcy. Such wellness hubs would make it easier for GPs to prescribe exercise plans for patients battling lifestyle conditions, signposting them towards wellness professionals while taking the load off of hospitals.

Physical inactivity costs the UK £20bn a year and significantly increases risk of up to 20 conditions including heart disease, type-2 diabetes, cancers and mental health problems. Treating long-term conditions consumes around 70 per cent of the NHS’s annual budget, so Grey-Thompson will present a concerted shift towards a “prevention over cure” model as the only realistic option.

The recommendation to transform local leisure facilities follows official figures that show newly-renovated facilities significantly increase usage levels by local residents, cost less taxpayers money to operate, improve health and wellbeing, create more local jobs and are significantly more environmentally sustainable.

The plan to transform the UK’s leisure stock forms part of a major new report from ukactive, called Blueprint for an Active Britain: Milestone Review. The report looks at the progress made since last year’s initial Blueprint – which found 79 per cent of MPs felt physical inactivity should be a higher Government priority – and offers practical recommendations across the NHS, local councils, transport, workplaces and the built environment to tackle the UK’s inactivity health crisis.

These include:

  • Government should act now on the damage inactivity causes in the workplace by extending the Cycle to Work Programme to include a broader range of activity offers and provide grants for SMEs to install showers and bike racks in the workplace to encourage staff to run or cycle to work.
  • Primary schools nationwide to assess fitness in the same way as English and Maths, making direct interventions where necessary to protect children from ill health due to inactivity.
  • Government should commit to the level of funding pledged by the Sugar Tax, irrespective of the impact of reformulation measures taken by the soft drinks industry and ensure this money is invested into physical activity offerings both in and out of school to counter the impact of ‘inactive school holidays’.
  • Scaled roll-out of NHS led schemes which either a) prescribe exercise programmes and support for individuals with health conditions managed or treated by exercise or b) promote increases in activity levels for at-risk patients to improve their health and prevent the need for clinical treatment.
  • Government to appoint a Chief Built Environment Advisor to ensure new building projects are designed with physical activity in mind.

The wide-ranging report features contributions from a number of leading health experts and charities, including Dame Carol Black, former health advisor to David Cameron, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), Royal Society for Public Health, the Nuffield Trust, Mind and Age UK.

The call for a concerted transformation of local leisure centres comes as previously unreleased polling by ComRes for ukactive shows that 84 per cent of councillors agree there is a role for private companies to work with local Government on public and community projects.

The new Blueprint report advocates cross-sector funded wellness hubs which offer a joined-up approach to public services. Funding body Sport England’s strategic investment model for these facilities is able to leverage £1bn of private sector funding for every £100m of public money invested. The arms-length body estimates that 1,000 wellness hubs created over the next 10 years could supplant the 2,000 ageing leisure centres currently in need of renewal, leading to net savings of up to £500m per year in operating costs alone.

Costing £10-15m, these new wellness hubs can be strategically placed in prime locations where they can absorb the capacity of two or even three outdated facilities. Recent builds in areas such as Hinckley, Warrington and Crewe have achieved savings of around 30 per cent in both construction and operating costs, as well as a 35 per cent uplift in usage by the public. They have leveraged support for their successful management from organisations across the public, private and third sector.

Paralympic champion and ukactive Chair, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, said: “Inactive lifestyles are placing unprecedented strain on our health service and it’s vital that we take action now before we bankrupt the NHS.

“This level of investment is a drop in the ocean compared to the cost to the NHS of a full-blown inactivity epidemic. A radical overhaul of our leisure infrastructure would help us prevent unhealthy habits from forming and move towards a health system that places emphasis on wellness over illness.

“We all have fond childhood memories of birthday parties and swimming sessions at our local leisure centres and these sites should remain pillars of local communities, with updated offerings which can cater for health needs from cradle to grave.”

Steven Ward, ukactive Executive Director, said: “Strategic investment in community infrastructure enables major efficiency savings and can save the NHS by empowering people to take responsibility for their own health.

“For too long the NHS has shouldered the burden of society’s unhealthy lifestyles. Creating a network of wellness hubs will enable society to take responsibility for their lifestyle choices and reap the benefits of physical activity.”

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive, Royal Society for Public Health said: “Public health in the UK is facing very challenging times. Cuts to local authority budgets, in a climate of increasing inactivity and resulting avoidable illness, mean that creative solutions are needed to get more people active and improve their overall health.

“The public’s health and wellbeing is everyone’s business, and partnerships between stakeholders have never been more important. ukactive’s Blueprint for an Active Britain: Milestone Review puts forward a clear case for the public, third and private sectors to work more closely together and invest in and deliver physical activity programmes. Only by working together can we hope to reverse the growing trend of physical inactivity that is so damaging to the health of our nation.”

Professor Dame Carol Black DBE, FRCP, FMedSci, Expert Adviser on Health and Work to NHS England and Public Health England, Chair of the Nuffield Trust for health policy, and Non-Executive Director of ukactive, said: “Almost everyone knows that being physically active is good for our health and our wellbeing, yet most of us are not nearly as active as we could be.

“We don’t have to be Olympic or Paralympic champions but neither should we be inert, sedentary beings, mere onlookers. Each day we should make a real physical effort, at work or at play. We must become a more active nation and so be healthier and feel better about ourselves.

“With modern living making us more sedentary than ever before, it’s vital that we find creative solutions to embedding activity and staving off the deadly effects of sedentary work patterns. Installing office showers to encourage active commuting and offering tax incentives for corporate gym memberships would be a great way to inspire a healthier and more productive workforce.”

Jane Duncan, President, The Royal Institute of British Architects, said: “The environment around us has a tremendous impact on how active we are. The right spaces ensure that people can engage with their communities in an active and healthy way. Poorly thought through spaces can put up barriers to healthy living that can be hard to take down.

“The RIBA believes that ukactive’s recommendation for a Chief Built Environment Advisor will help build on UK best practice to ensure that active design is central to how our communities develop into the future.”

Case Study – Orford Jubilee Park, Warrington

Opened by the Queen in 2012, Orford Jubilee Park is a flagship community, leisure, health and education centre in Warrington.

Operated by LiveWire, the integrated wellness hub was built to replace an ageing leisure centre. The £28m project was developed through a unique partnership involving over 20 national, regional and local funding partners from the public, private and voluntary sectors.

Indoor leisure facilities include swimming pools, two dance studios, a 4-court sports hall, and a 90-station health and fitness gym. The community facilities comprise an education unit, a library, three GP surgeries, a Primary Care Trust (PCT) lifestyles team and a central café, while outdoors there are football pitches, a bowls green, plus a BMX and skateboard park.

Within two years of opening, visitor numbers to the site were three times higher than the leisure centre it replaced, driving significant increases in activity levels, as well as a seven-fold increase in the numbers joining the library.

About ukactive

ukactive is the UK’s leading not-for-profit health body for the physical activity sector, with almost 4,000 members from activity providers to major consumer brands, training facilities and equipment manufacturers. Members come from across the private, public and third sector and are united by ukactive’s longstanding and uncompromising commitment to getting more people, more active, more often.

ukactive facilitates big impact partnerships, conceives and drives breakthrough campaigns, conducts critical research and galvanises key stakeholders to develop and deliver key projects that support and champion the physical activity agenda. The organisation’s efforts are centred on supporting a national ambition to “Turn the tide of physical inactivity”.