GP gym referral scheme extends in Suffolk

Patient Martin (left) with Babergh District Council's Derek Davis

Patient Martin (left) with Babergh District Council's Derek Davis (centre) and Abbeycroft Leisure health and wellbeing practitioner Granville Walker (right) - Credit: Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils

Further patients with conditions such as obesity and hypertension can be referred by GPs for a tailored gym project following a year extension to the scheme. 

Doctors have been able to refer patients to the Kingfisher Leisure Centre in Sudbury and Mid Suffolk Leisure Centre in Stowmarket for several years and has been further extended in Babergh and Mid Suffolk with a pilot at Hadleigh Pool and Leisure and a scheme soon to launch at Stradbroke Pool and Fitness Centre. 

GPs can prescribe a tailored exercise programme at those centres for common conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, obesity and hypertension, as well as preparation for operations or rehabilitation exercises.

 Harry Richardson, with patient Sophie and Everyone Active fitness manager Kelly Calydon

Mid Suffolk District Council cabinet member Harry Richardson (left), with patient Sophie (centre) and Everyone Active fitness manager Kelly Clayden (right) - Credit: Mid Suffolk District Council

One patient to have already had a referral is Nigel Westwell, who has Parkinson’s disease.

He said: “Due to having Parkinson’s I was very concerned about my body strength as most people with Parkinson’s are susceptible to trips and falls and this was something I wanted to avoid.

“Before I joined the scheme I would often stagger when I walked, but now I have improved my strength and balance and I stagger much less.

“I’ve really enjoyed the sprints on the bike which have made my legs much stronger, and the upper body training has made me feel better overall. I am now able to manage my symptoms better, I’m sleeping better, and it’s given me a good appetite.”

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The Hadleigh pilot, which began in March, is set to test levels of demand over the course of the year.

Dr Dean Dorsett, a GP at Burlington Primary Care and personalised care lead for NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group, which is funding the Hadleigh pilot, said: “It is wonderful to see different parts of our health and care system working together for the benefit of our citizens.

“The ongoing Covid pandemic has exposed the risks of not following the healthiest lifestyle we individually and collectively can.

“This is truly an innovative ounce-of-prevention initiative to support Suffolk in being a healthier, happier county.”

The programme began following a tie up between the NHS clinical commissioning groups, Babergh and Mid Suffolk councils and their leisure centre providers Abbeycroft Leisure and Everyone Active.

Sophie Towler, who has multiple sclerosis, uses the scheme in Stowmarket. She said: “The staff at Mid Suffolk Leisure Centre are very supportive and have helped me to regain my confidence.

“I no longer focus on what I can’t do and am enjoying receiving help in managing my symptoms thanks to the scheme.”

The councils said they hoped the expansion of the scheme will help boost health and wellbeing in the districts.

Babergh’s Independent cabinet member for communities, Derek Davis, said: “Increasing your levels of activity and improving your exercise routine can be a daunting task for anyone, let alone when coupled with underlying health conditions.

“That’s why with tailored support from their GP and Abbeycroft Leisure, our residents can get the lasting support they need to get their health on track for years to come.”

Harry Richardson, Conservative cabinet member for health and wellbeing at Mid Suffolk District Council added: “Through the programmes, trained staff can tailor exercises to the needs of each patient, whether for rehabilitation, in preparation for an operation, or to lose weight for example.”

Those who think they may benefit from a referral should speak to their GP.