Walking for Health Walking for Health is England’s largest network of health walk schemes, run by the charities Ramblers and Macmillan Cancer Support. Similar programmes are operated by Ramblers in Scotland (Medal Routes) and Wales (Let’s Walk Cymru). The Walking for Health website describes how every week they “support thousands of people to experience the benefits of getting and staying active, improving their mental and physical wellbeing, and reducing social isolation.” They tell GPs that “spending just 60 seconds recommending Walking

for Health to your patients will encourage them to increase their levels of physical activity, ultimately saving lives and money, and reducing clinic numbers.” Practices are encouraged to either signpost patients to a local scheme or get help in setting up one of their own.

“Nature prescriptions” In October 2018 the Guardian reported that doctors in Shetland had begun prescribing birdwatching, rambling and beach walks. Health board NHS Shetland authorised the area’s 10 GP surgeries to issue so-called “nature prescriptions” to patients to help treat mental illness, diabetes, heart disease, stress and other conditions. Under the initiative, the health board set up a pioneering partnership with RSPB Scotland who produced an information leaflet and a calendar of seasonal activities that doctors hand out to patients at their discretion.

Speaking in October, GP Chloe Evans from Scalloway Health Centre said: “The project provides a structured way for patients to access nature as part of a non-drug approach to health problems. The benefits to patients are that it is free, easily accessible, allows increased connection with surroundings which hopefully leads to improved physical and mental health for individuals”.

Bingo, Bollywood and beyond The King’s Fund says that more than 100 social prescribing schemes are currently running in the UK, more than 25 of which are in London. One pilot project in the capital involves 37 GP practices in the borough of Croydon. With the help of £800,000 of NHS funding, doctors there can choose from a list of more than 100 activities including bingo, Bollywood dancing, boxing, coffee mornings and choir singing. The Guardian reported in November how, in the scheme’s first year, there was a 20 per cent reduction in hospital outpatient referrals and a four per cent drop in emergency hospital admissions from Croydon’s Parchmore medical centre. Dr Agnelo Fernandes, who leads Parchmore, said: “People who were previously isolated are getting out of their houses. It has provided an opportunity to meet people and do other things.” Social prescribing is not a new phenomenon – occupational therapists

have advocated meaningful activities/occupations for over a century – but interest in encouraging general practice to play its part has certainly increased in recent years as healthcare strategy places greater emphasis on prevention, wellbeing and patient-centred care. If practices are given enough support and encouragement – with extra funding allocated to charities and community groups – then proponents of the approach hope it could go some way to reducing workloads and improving patient outcomes.

Joanne Curran is managing editor of GPST

Further information • What is social prescribing? The King’s Fund – uk/publications/social-prescribing

• RCGP Parkrun practice initiative – • Walking for Health –

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