According to the Department of Health the majority of people in the UK are sedentary and would benefit from becoming more physically active and the estimated annual cost due to inactivity and obesity is over £10 billion.
GPs can play a very important role in identifying large amounts of the population who are sedentary and would benefit from becoming more physically active. However due to time restrictions and a lack of exercise knowledge in primary care, physical activity referral schemes (PARS) can help to increase patient’s physical activity levels in the aim of improving or eliminating certain medial conditions.
PARS are specialist; time limited courses that have become a major route for introducing sedentary people into physical activity over the past ten years. PARS exist to support, encourage and motivate patients to become more physically active, more often. The PARS also provide a range of physical activity options for patients suffering from certain specific medical conditions. GPs can refer ‘eligible’ patients to a scheme in their area where individuals are offered specialist support from appropriately qualified staff in becoming more physically active. There are some conditions which an individual may have, which are ‘contraindications’ for physical activity i.e. individuals with these specified conditions are unable to take part in physical activity due to the ‘risk’ to the patient such as unstable angina.
The effectiveness of PARS has been questioned in the past, but in my experience creating multidisciplinary partnerships between local authorities, PCT, health professionals, leisure centres and exercise professionals will ensure that this service will reach those who will benefit most from becoming more physically active.
At a practice level, the success of an PARS is dependent upon a strong interface between the exercise professional and the patient. A patient that has a dedicated exercise professional is more likely to adhere to the programme. A pathway from the 12-week programme into a self-help group or similar is a major factor in sustaining a healthy lifestyle.
I have worked within Physical Activity Referral Schemes for over five years and have worked with some really inspirational people, some of whom are still active today since being referred all those years ago.