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New report shows important role pools can play to ease pressure on NHS

A new report has highlighted the important role pools, leisure centres and gyms can play in helping to ease the pressure on the NHS.

Swim England has welcomed the release of ukactive’s Leading the Change: social prescribing within the fitness and leisure sector report and insists it also shows why urgent investment is needed in facilities for the future.

The recognised national governing body has been a champion of aquatic activity as a key tool to help improve health and wellbeing and the report makes specific mention of Swim England’s detailed work in that area. 

Statistics previously published by Swim England show that swimming helps to save the health and social care system more than £357 million a year – as being active in the water can help prevent, and treat, a number of physical and mental health conditions.

Now ukactive is recommending that the Government and its agencies unlock the potential of fitness, leisure facilities and pools to serve more people through social prescribing.

NHS England has funded the roll out of social prescribing link workers, who can be based in GP practices or other community settings to take referrals from local agencies.

These link workers start with what matters to the person, create a shared plan and introduce people to community support that could help them take more control over their healthcare and manage their needs in a way that suits them.

Ukactive is also suggesting more gyms, pools and leisure facilities are connected to community social prescribing networks, which will provide opportunities for greater cross-sector partnerships.

Right opportunities

Andrew Power, Swim England water wellbeing specialist, said: “Swim England has long recognised that swimming can be an excellent way of improving health and wellbeing.

“With current pressures on the NHS and one in five GP appointments taken up for non-medical reasons, it is clear that providers of swimming and other aquatic activities can help to ease some of this pressure.

“This is possible by providing the right opportunities for people with long-term health conditions or impairments to be more active and create social connections in accessible and welcoming environments.

“To support this, we have developed the Water Wellbeing programme to provide pool operators with all of the essential training and resources to make pools across England the perfect option for social prescribers to signpost people to.

“An accreditation scheme is in place to provide assurance of quality to both professionals and the public.”

To support the provision of a swimming-based social prescribing offering, Swim England and associated pool operators have developed links to various local and national healthcare services, from GP practices and primary care networks to social prescribing services, link workers and a range of healthcare charities.

This supports effective signposting to physical activity opportunities, appropriate to the individual’s needs, that may exist within the local area.

Swim England has worked with more than 50 pools to date, with more than 1,200 participants already engaged in Water Wellbeing – and is actively growing the number of pools involved.

Critical moment

Philip Brownlie, Swim England head of public affairs, said this showed why more investment is needed to ensure there were the facilities for the future.

Swim England has warned up to 2,000 pools could be lost by the end of the decade as pools which were constructed in the 1960s and 1970s are coming to the end of their lifespan – while not enough new facilities are being built to replace them.

Phil said: “This ukactive report shows that swimming is one of the most popular social prescribing activities.

“So it’s imperative that there is enough water space for the millions of people who prefer aquatic-based activity or cannot exercise on dry land for a variety of reasons and therefore rely on pools to keep active.

“We therefore urge the Government and local authorities to take note of the findings of this important report and ensure there is funding in place for the pools and facilities of the future.”

Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said: “As our NHS comes under even greater pressures and the backlog for treatment grows, it is essential that we look differently at how healthcare-related physical activity could be delivered in gyms and leisure centres within our communities.

“We publish this report at a critical moment for the future of our nation’s health, happiness and wellbeing and we must ensure that every gym, pool and leisure centre is supported to survive the current financial crisis in order to fulfil their essential role in preventative health.”

To view ukactive’s Leading the Change: social prescribing within the fitness and leisure sector report, click here.

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