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Benefits ‘should be docked for non-adherence to GP exercise prescriptions’

Patients given exercise prescriptions by GPs could have their benefits cut if they fail to use the opportunity to lose weight and get healthy, a local council has proposed.

The report by the City of Westminster borough council and the Local Government Information Unit says that local authorities should use council tax and housing benefit to incentivise ‘behaviours that promote public health’.

It suggests that adherence to exercise prescriptions should be monitored using ‘smart cards’ that check if a patient has accessed local leisure facilities.

The A Dose of Localism: The Role of Councils in Public Health report suggests initiatives for local government to work with Health and Wellbeing Boards and local CCGs to support healthier lifestyles.

The report says: ‘Relocalisation of council tax benefit and housing benefit combined with new technologies provide an opportunity for councils to
embed financial incentives for behaviours that promote public health.

‘The increasing use of smart cards for access to leisure facilities, for instance, provides councils with a significant amount of data on usage patterns. Where an exercise package is prescribed to a resident, housing and council tax benefit payments could be varied to reward or incentivise residents.’

Dr Anouska Hari, vice-chair of Westminster LMC, said she was dubious about the scheme.

She said: ‘I don’t know enough about the scheme to say whether I support it or not, but I believe it would be difficult to implement  any initiative that requires additional manpower in the current climate.’