GPs in England and Wales should ‘prescribe’ exercise outdoors to patients to help reduce obesity and diabetes, according to the Local Government Association (LGA).
The LGA, which represents more than 370 councils, has called for GPs to issue ‘green prescriptions’ – similar to a scheme in New Zealand – through which they would set moderate physical activity goals, such as outdoor walks, activities in parks, or family exercise classes.
Under the proposals, GPs would receive progress reporters from a support worker, who would give advice over the phone, meet with patients face-to-face and run support groups.
The RCGP said that patients would benefit from lifestyle changes, but GPs would need the resources to support any extra workload.
The LGA pointed to statistics from New Zealand that revealed eight out of ten GPs used green prescriptions since their introduction in 1998
A recent survey of patients given these green prescriptions in New Zealand found that 72% noticed positive changes to their health, 67% improved their diet and over half (51%) felt stronger and fitter.
The LGA also highlighted research published in the British Medical Journal which found that a green prescription can improve a patient’s quality of life over 12 months and help people live longer, healthier lives.
It found that some GPs are already taking part in schemes to get patients exercising outdoors, such as in Dartmoor and Exmoor, and has called for similar schemes to be rolled out nationwide.
Councillor Izzi Seccombe, chair of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: ‘There are some instances where rather than prescribing a pill, advising on some type of moderate physical activity outdoors could be far more beneficial to the patient.
‘This could be going on organised walks, conservation work with a local park group, or gardening at home. The green prescription model is something that could help to tackle major health conditions such as obesity and diabetes.’
RCGP spokesperson Dr Steve Mowle agreed that sometimes patients do not need traditional ‘medical’ care to make them feel better but could benefit from access to exercise or clubs where they can interact with other people.
However, he warned any decision to invest in social prescribing schemes, and roll them out more widely, must not be an ‘alternative to investing in our general practice service’ and that any extra workload for GPs must be ‘matched with the appropriate resources’.