NHS England’s ambitions for social prescribing are moving away from a one-size-fits-all health and care system, towards a set-up which gives people greater choice and control over the services they need to help support and improve their mental and physical health.
Social prescribing is now linking across sectors, including health and fitness, the arts and the natural environment and as a result, ukactive is working on a number of initiatives to link the fitness sector to opportunities that support the wider social prescribing infrastructure.
Working in partnership
The first ever partnership between NHS England and ukactive, announced by chair Tanni Grey-Thompson in 2020, saw the sector pledging 500,000 hours of physical activity provision at no cost to the end user, via the social prescribing services which are being rolled out across England.
These hours are being delivered in various forms, such as one-to-one or group exercise sessions, coaching time, use of facilities and staff time, use of libraries and digital and hybrid fitness offerings.
This initiative highlights the key role the health and fitness sector has to play when it comes to integrating with NHS healthcare pathways and maximising support for the healthcare sector at a time when both the health service and social care systems are under huge pressure.
Our sector has a huge opportunity to develop strong partnerships with the NHS and other health agencies, given we have a breadth of programmes that can play a direct role in improving people’s physical, mental and social wellbeing.
We’re the engine room of physical activity in this country, with gyms, pools, leisure centres and equipment suppliers already playing an essential role. Our role can grow further through the development of pathways which enable people to get into activity via their doctor or their social prescriber – or through referrals from health care professionals, such as physiotherapists.
Now we want to diversify our programmes and link the healthcare sector to the thousands of gyms, pools, and leisure centres that exist within every community.
Great work already underway
Social prescribing already exists within the fitness and leisure sector, but we recognise that the healthcare sector doesn’t have a full inventory of all the things we can contribute as an industry and so ukactive has launched the social prescribing consultation to rectify this.
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.
We aim to identify any form of delivery that connects what health and fitness operators are providing within the realm of social prescribing and health, as well as gaining insights into the job roles of people who are delivering programmes.
We also intend to create a geographical and organisational map of what’s on offer, to raise awareness and gain the confidence of doctors, social prescribers and health professionals, when it comes to referring people to our services. The consultation findings will be analysed and compiled into a report with recommendations to identify social prescribing ‘test and learn’ sites which are timed to launch across England in 2022.
We’re also working closely with NHS England to map out where clinical requirements and resources best match the bank of donated hours which have been given by operators – this insight is then being used to inform the creation of these test sites.
ukactive will also be delivering sessions advising on social prescribing as part of its Together webinar series, to help operators learn more about social prescribing and its ambitions. These webinars will also offer the opportunity for people to raise questions and provide input.
This initiative will enable the sector to enhance its visibility and role in supporting social prescribing, and better understand how activity can be linked into health and social care delivery more widely and effectively.
This has not been planned as a one-off project, but as an ongoing programme, requiring multiple partners to develop, co-design and align with NHS and sector ambitions. The goal is to enable the industry to play a major role in supporting new pathways to improve every patient’s choice and control over how they become more active.
The past year has increased the profile on the essential services we provide. It’s vital our sector shares its evidence with the health sector and we bring our findings to life, working with members and partners across the sector and the wider health community to showcase our role in improving the nation’s health and wellbeing, building on the great work already taking place.
I’d encourage all those who are interested in social prescribing to sign up for newsletters and updates from the National Academy of Social Prescribing (NASP) at www.rsecovidcommission.org.uk and – like ukactive – become part of its Thriving Communities Network.
The NASP is dedicated to the advancement of social prescribing through promotion, collaboration and innovation.
Making a contribution
I also urge you to tell us what you’re doing in the social prescribing space and about your healthcare links, as well as registering your interest in donating hours to the social prescribing pathway, by emailing us at [email protected] or [email protected]
With this information and your help, we aim to cement the physical activity sector’s reputation as an essential service to the nation, unlock referral mechanisms, secure access to sustainable and long-term funding to improve business operations, diversify your membership base, acquire new members and position the sector as a socially-driven industry.
Through clear governance, culture change and building the business case, this programme will bring together fitness and leisure managers, funders and end-users into partnership.
This is vital to ensure that we position the sector as a viable option for commissioned physical activity interventions, giving people the choice and control to become more active physically, mentally and emotionally within our spaces.