ukactive has announced the launch of a major consultation today (13 July) to understand the scale and impact of healthcare links through social prescribing within the physical activity sector.
The consultation, led by the ukactive Research Institute and supported by Matrix, is open to organisations that deliver social prescribing and other such health programmes, and will help increase sector support for health provision at a time when the NHS and social care systems are coming under increasing pressure.
Titled ‘Leading the Change’, the initiative aims to accelerate social prescribing within the sector across England, and forms part of ukactive’s wider engagement with NHS England and other health stakeholders, including the National Academy of Social Prescribing.
Although the research will focus on social prescribing, it will also explore the sector’s existing links – formal or otherwise – with the NHS and healthcare, capturing pathways such as rehabilitation, prehabilitation, falls prevention, dance, and other social and physical activity interventions.
Social prescribing is a means of enabling health professionals to refer people to a range of non-clinical services to support their health and wellbeing, drawing on social activities and interventions provided within the local community to address issues such as long-term conditions, poor health, relationships, finances, and physical activity.
There is a growing body of evidence that social prescribing can lead to improvements in quality of life and emotional wellbeing, mental and general wellbeing, and levels of depression and anxiety.
The findings of the consultation will be published in a ukactive report in October, including recommendations to members, partners and policymakers for growing the sector’s role in the health system and improving existing social prescribing services.
The report will also explore the sector’s understanding of social prescribing and reveal best practice to inform a series of social prescribing ‘test and learn’ sites across the country.
In November last year, ukactive announced a new scheme with an initial pledge of 500,000 hours of physical activity provision from the sector, available at no cost to the end user via the social prescribing services being rolled out nationwide.
The scheme is designed to increase the physical activity sector’s footprint in the national rollout of social prescribing, and support the diversification of the sector by further strengthening its links to health and social care delivery.
Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said: “Our sector is the engine room of physical activity in the UK, and social prescribing is a powerful tool for our sector to maximise the impact of its services within the UK’s health and social case systems.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the country’s health and the NHS hard, it’s time to step up the measures to prevent future ill health.
“We know there are some fantastic examples of social prescribing programmes in our sector and this consultation offers the opportunity for us to accelerate the expansion of this concept across the breadth of our sector so we can play our fullest role in supporting the NHS.
“As a socially driven industry, we want to reach the people who do not yet see us as an essential service so they can live healthier, happier lives.”
Julian Taylor, Commercial Director of Johnson Health Tech, parent company of Matrix Fitness, said: “The past 18 months have forced us all to take a long, hard look at our overall health, both physical and mental.
“We know that social prescribing can lead to a range of positive health and wellbeing outcomes and as an industry, we are perfectly placed to utilise the social prescribing options available to help signpost people to additional support, care and wellbeing services.
“This consultation will help provide better links to supportive services, helping to help improve the health of the nation which in turn, will help protect the NHS.”
James Sanderson, CEO of the National Academy for Social Prescribing, said: “The National Academy of Social Prescribing welcomes this sector insight as the fitness and leisure industry can play a major role supporting social prescribing by giving people choice and control over how they become active, socially and physically.”
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