Ellen Rowles from Action PR highlights how local community leisure centres play a key role in rehabilitation and ease the burden on GPs

A growing amount of evidence has shown that the average workload for GPs has increased 16% over the past seven years resulting in GPs resigning at a rapid rate – as many as 400 per month according to a recent study published in The Lancet (1). It’s estimated that by 2020, there will be a shortage of 12,100 GPs in the UK. At the same time the UK is faced with an ever-growing obesity crisis, which in many cases leads on to further health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure as well as a growing older population, which of course comes with its own challenges. With all this in mind, many local authorities are at a crisis point trying to manage the community’s welfare, whilst also facing budget cuts. So how can local authorities find a balance?

Working in partnership

Many local authorities turn to a wide range of partners including local authority leisure providers for expertise. Leisure Centres are well placed to provide support to already strained NHS services as they work directly in partnership with councils and GPs to offer a GP Referral Programme.

Everyone Active runs a thriving GP referral scheme across its network of 160 leisure centres, which are operated in partnership with 49 different councils and leisure trusts. Each scheme is a 12-week long programme.

Everyone Health group exercise session for weight loss members

“We mostly see people coming through our doors on the GP referral scheme due to weight related issues and a lot of clients with diabetes,” says Richard Coker, Health Manager at Harrow Leisure Centre. “When a referred client comes in for the first time we will always have a pre-assessment session with them. The pre-assessment is important as it’s here that we determine what preconditions they might have, and we gather as much information as possible on their general health, functional levels and current activity levels. This then helps us determine what programme we should prescribe a client. Our main aim is to help them to increase their activity levels and remove any barriers to exercise.”

He adds that most people feel very nervous when they first come into a leisure centre, so it’s important that they make that person feel at ease before putting them on a gentle activity programme.

“Throughout the 12 weeks, each person on the GP referral scheme will have regular follow up sessions, this includes a mixture of one-to-one sessions with one of our GP referral instructors, group exercise classes such as aqua therapy, circuits and women’s only classes. At Harrow Leisure Centre we also have a dedicated specialist population gym where those on our scheme can go and workout in. Some of our participants feel a lot more comfortable here as it’s away from the main gym and provides a safe and more private environment.”

At Westway Sports & Fitness Club, which is operated in partnership with Westway Trust, they too have a thriving and award-winning rehabilitation scheme. The club has seen fantastic results with 71% of their GP referral clients continuing to use the gym facilities after completing the 12 programme. They also offer a subsidised gym membership, to help ensure they stay on track and don’t slip back into old habits.

Expanding the range of services

Recognising the benefits of outsourcing more health services, local authorities are inviting leisure providers to tender to operate a wider range of health schemes.

Cambridgeshire County Council were looking for a partner to support them in providing a wide range of services to help families lead healthier lives through preventative and lifestyle management interventions. In June 2015, a three-year contract was awarded to Everyone Health, a specialist public health division of Everyone Active who now provide a range of services across Cambridge including weight management programmes for children, families and adults, a 12-week stop smoking programme, regular targeted NHS health checks as well as behavioral change training programmes.

Many leisure operators are also offering specialised stroke and cancer rehabilitation programmes in partnership with organisations such as Macmillan as well as with their local hospitals and GPs. Its also worth noting that offering these types of services within a leisure centre environment bring huge benefits to those affected as once a patient has started to feel better by taking part in the initial programme, the transition to try other forms of exercise at the centre is straightforward as many will feel comfortable exercising independently in a familiar environment. Accessibility is another major benefit, with many local leisure centres in the heart of communities and open all day, unlike visiting their GP or local hospital which can be a lengthy process.


Prevention of course, where possible, is far better than finding a cure or trying to rehabilitate someone, particularly in the case of older adults. Many local authority leisure facilities offer a wide variety of schemes including mobility sessions, falls prevention sessions as well as schemes to tackle isolation.

Harrow Leisure Centre has seen huge successes, having launched its Active Community Monday’s scheme in partnership with Age UK. Since the scheme was launched in November 2016, the group has grown to approximately 20 dedicated members attending each week, who have seen significant physical progress as well as greatly enjoying the social aspect.

Harrow Leisure Centre

A typical session begins with an introductory hour in which participants socialise whilst enjoying the free tea, coffee and biscuits provided. A group mobility class is then lead by a GP referral manager, consisting of gentle mobility exercises aimed at improving strength, flexibility and balance and has a focus on decreasing falls, before either a Tai Chi session.

As the benefits of exercise and healthy living become more recognised in the mainstream as a legitimate way to prevent and treat illness and disease, the leisure centre is perfectly placed to support the community and ease the burden on the NHS.

(1) http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)00620-6/abstract


Ellen Rowles 

Account Manager

Action PR Ltd



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