HCM Handbook 2022-2023

Page 60

industry insights

GOLDEN opportunity Following the COVID shakedown, the UK health and fitness sector is presented with the biggest opportunity in its history to impact the health of the nation and drive up penetration rates. Is this the time to link up with the NHS? Kath Hudson reports…

T

he pandemic brought about some stark realisations. The NHS would have ceased functioning without the lockdowns and anyone who has tried accessing services since will be aware of quite how under resourced it is now. COVID also exacerbated the serious health inequalities which already existed in the UK. According to Sir Michael Marmot’s review at the end of 2020, health inequality across the UK has worsened during the last 10 years. However, COVID has given many people a sharp wake up call that they need to start taking more responsibility for their health and wellbeing. The creation of the Office for Health Promotion and the £100m obesity fund suggests there could be some political will to get behind the public mood. Advisor to Public Health England, Muir Gray, says the health and fitness sector represents a huge untapped 60

Handbook 2022

resource of a 50,000-strong workforce which is technically competent and highly skilled, with condition-specific qualifications, who could really help to ease the burden on the NHS. Gray argues the country needs a National Activity Therapy Service, delivered locally by the sector’s excellent professionals: “We need to establish a routine of prescribing and dispensing activity in primary care and get activity therapy funded – just like drug or psychological therapy. The NHS desperately needs help to deal with the effects of long-term conditions, especially the approximately 12 million people who don’t reach the specialist NHS rehabilitation services.” The CEO of UK Active, Huw Edwards, echoes this: “As our health service comes under even greater pressures and the backlog for treatment grows,

it’s essential we look differently at how healthcare-related physical activity could be delivered in gyms and leisure centres within our communities.”

The time is now

In many ways, the health and fitness sector has been building to this point for several years and is well placed to take this reality forward. Through the monitoring evaluation of the Leisure Recovery Fund, the sector will have consistent data for the first time. The Benefits Outweigh the Risk report, a follow-up to the 2015 research study, Exercise, the Miracle Cure, builds on the body of evidence which shows exercise is an effective intervention to many diseases and the risk of participation is very low. This removes a hefty barrier, as 46 per cent of healthcare professionals had previously reported not knowing www.HCMhandbook.com