My 6,000-patient hell
NHS health trainers the flagship proposal in the Government's public health White Paper will have no long-term benefits on exercise and weight loss, researchers are warning.
GP referral to exercise schemes is a 'waste of time' and not supported by the evidence, the leader of a new trial concludes.
The results came as Health Secretary John Reid continued to insist primary care would take on a growing
role in promoting healthy living, as he gave evidence to a Commons health select committee inquiry into the White Paper.
The local authority-funded study found referring patients classified as 'sedentary' to trainers had a small benefit after six months, with 9 per cent more patients exercising than controls (see box).
But after a year, just 5 per cent more were doing regular exercise and the difference was no longer significant.
Research leader Dr Roger Harrison, senior research fellow at the evidence for population health unit, University of Manchester, said: 'In the White Paper they go on about health trainers, but they are unlikely to have any benefit.
'These schemes were seen as the saviour to get people physically active but they aren't going to make any difference in terms of our sedentary population. They're a waste of time.'
Dr Colin Guthrie, a GP in Glasgow who took part in one of the first exercise referral schemes and found similar results, said: 'Whatever we do we must not take on any responsibility for getting people to lose weight. If we take on the role we are going to fail and then it will be our fault.'
He was scathing about Government plans to introduce obesity management into the quality framework, insisting 'it's a poisoned chalice'.
Sarah Haynes, an adviser for the Counterweight Project, which found a GP obesity programme could encourage weight loss, said a 'toolbox' of interventions was needed.
The study was published in the Journal of Public Health (March).
How study casts doubt on health trainers
·GPs selected 545 sedentary patients with additional CHD risk factors such as obesity, diabetes and history of CHD
·Study compared effectiveness of health trainers plus information leaflets with information leaflets only
·Health trainer group received initial one-hour consultation, 12-week subsidised leisure pass and offer of follow-up consultation
·At six months, 9 per cent more of health trainer group were doing at least 90 minutes of moderate/vigorous exercise a week at 12 months the difference was just 5 per cent
By Nerys Hairon