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GPs told - Make physical activity a clinical priority

The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) has announced physical activity and lifestyle as one of its clinical priorities for the next three years, becoming the latest influential body to elevate the importance of tackling sedentary behaviour.

As Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson highlighted at this week’s ukactive Flame Conference, there has been a significant shift in public health thinking in recent years, with tackling physical inactivity increasingly becoming a priority. ukactive’s recent Blueprint for an active Britain contained a raft of policy calls for tackling inactivity which were subsequently adopted in both the government’s and Sport England’s recent sports strategies. 

Now, the RCGP – which aims to support primary care professionals with reliable, evidence-based information to prevent and manage lifestyle-related diseases – has identified promoting physical activity as a clinical priority for GPs and their teams, who deal with 90 per cent of NHS patient contacts. The announcement, which will see physical activity given greater prominence by local GP practices, both in terms of training but also in terms of the priorities of doctors, will aim to reduce long-term pressure on the health service by focusing on prevention over cure. 

Dr Zoe Williams and Dr Andrew Boyd have been appointed joint Clinical Champions for the programme, which will be run in partnership with the Nuffield Department of Primary Care and Health Sciences, at the University of Oxford.

“Despite one in six deaths being preventable by increasing physical activity, GPs often feel ill equipped, due to lack of training, time and incentives, to discuss physical activity levels with patients,” said Dr Williams.

“I’m delighted to take up this role and over the next three years aim to influence general practice staff and patients alike to make improvements to their lifestyle, and in doing so reduce demand on primary care, and the wider NHS, at a time when workload pressures are overbearing.” 

The new health priority has the potential to open up a raft of opportunities for health and fitness providers. Public health delivery is becoming an increasingly important focus for the physical activity sector, with the chance to become a frontline public health delivery partner having previously been identified as an £8bn opportunity for the industry. Ukactive Executive Director Steven Ward described the latest move as a "watershed moment" and said ukactive would be fully behind RCGP as it drives forward this initiative. 

“ukactive and the entire physical activity community will strongly welcome the RCGP’s decision to prioritise physical activity and healthy lifestyles," said Ward. 

"We have worked together – including by supporting this move at RCGP internally – on this motion and it is fantastic that more people will now benefit from a preventative approach to health."

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