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GPs should be offered financial incentives to give exercise advice, says RCP

GPs should be offered ‘financial incentives’ via the QOF or enhanced services to offer exercise advice to inactive patients, according to the Royal College of Physicians.

A report by the college’s sport and exercise medicine committee said incentives for physical activity interventions would improve ‘patchy’ provision in this area, and said GPs should be encouraged to view exercise levels in the same way they as patients’ smoking status. Click here to download the report.

The report said there was a ‘lack of knowledge’ among doctors of the benefits of exercise, and cited a lack of leadership and coordination in existing work, including that involving GPs.

‘GPs should be encouraged to recognise that the physical activity status of a patient is as important as their smoking status. This could be encouraged by the use of Quality Outcomes Framework (QOF) points,’ the report said.  

The report calls for more exercise programmes to be developed in primary care, such as the Department of Health’s ‘Let’s get moving’ pathway, which aimed to target brief interventions for inactive adults through GPs to encourage ‘sustained behavioural changes’.

‘Financial incentives have been shown to enhance medical compliance with such programmes, but this would require a system of national targets, QOF points or funding for enhanced services at PCT level,’ the report said.

‘This will be further complicated by the advent of GP commissioning consortia. However, the uptake of exercise in the prevention and management of disease will ultimately rely on an understanding of its benefits and the desire of doctors, and other healthcare professionals, to provide the highest levels of clinical care.’

Professor Mark Batt, president, of the Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine, said: ‘Exercise is an effective and cheap prevention and treatment. Unlike many drugs there are few side-effects and of course it can be good for the environment too.

‘Despite this, there remains reluctance among healthcare professionals, including doctors to ask about physical activity levels and use exercise as a treatment. There needs to be a concerted effort directed at improving medical knowledge and engagement and royal colleges should show leadership in this area.’