Cycling and walking can be prescribed under a new pilot and plans to allow prescribing money off energy have also been mooted by the Treasury to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.
The £12.7m Government pilot allows GPs to prescribe exercise to patients to improve physical and mental health.
The 11 areas involved will receive part of the multi-year funding, which the Government said it hopes will ‘reduce disparities’.
The pilots, first promised in the Government’s 2020 Gear Change plan, aim to ‘evaluate the impact of cycling and walking on an individual’s health, such as reduced GP appointments and reliance on medication due to more physical activity’.
The funding will go towards ‘several pilot projects’ in each location, the announcement said, including:
- adult cycle training
- free bike loans
- walking groups
- all-ability cycling ‘taster’ days
- walking and cycling mental health groups
- ‘wheeling’, for users of wheelchairs and mobility scooters
Pilots will start this year and continue until 2025, with ‘ongoing monitoring and evaluation’ throughout.
The Government claimed this was ‘the first time’ that ‘transport, active travel and health officials will work together towards a whole systems approach to health improvement and tackling health disparities’.
Health minister Maria Caulfield, said: ‘Getting active is hugely beneficial for both our mental and physical health – helping reduce stress and ward off other illness such as heart disease and obesity.
‘The UK is leading the way in embedding social prescribing in our NHS and communities across the country. We’ve already exceeded our target to ensure over 900,000 people are referred to social prescribing schemes by 2023-24 and this pilot will help us identify further schemes to reduce disparities and boost mental and physical wellbeing across the country.’
The announcement follows plans first reported by The Sun on Saturday, that GPs could be tasked with prescribing money off energy bills for their most vulnerable patients, under proposals put forward by the Treasury to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.
It would see patients directed to their GP practice for an assessment of whether they are eligible for the financial support.
GPs would be tasked with verifying whether their patient needs help with their bills, either because they are sick, elderly or otherwise in need, before issuing the ‘prescription’, according to The Sun.
Patients would then receive cash from their local council or a voucher for gas and electricity, it said.
The measure is one option among the proposals to tackle soaring energy bills, which also include cutting the energy price cap by around £400, it said.
The Treasury confirmed to sister title Pulse that it was preparing ‘options’ for the next Government.
A Treasury spokesperson said: ‘We know that rising prices are causing significant challenges for families, which is why we have continually taken action to help households by phasing in £37 billion worth of support throughout the year, which includes specific support to help people through the difficult winter ahead.
‘We are making necessary preparations to ensure a new Government will have options to deliver additional support as quickly as possible.’
They added that no major fiscal decisions will be taken until the new Prime Minister is in post.
The proposals have been roundly criticised by the BMA which said it was ‘totally unacceptable’ and ‘beggar belief’.
BMA England GP Committee deputy chair Dr David Wrigley said: ‘We completely reject any suggestion that GPs do this work. They do not have the time or the skills to do the work of the welfare system.
‘In these next few months GPs already have to worry about delivering the Covid and flu vaccination programmes that will be necessary to see the NHS through the winter, on top of their daily crushing workload and the enormous Covid backlog we now see.’
He added: ‘At a time when GPs are already overwhelmed with the greatest workforce crisis and longest waiting lists in memory, this addition to their workload would be totally unacceptable.
‘It beggars belief that Government ministers think it is appropriate to suggest GPs undertake it.’
Dr Wrigley said that the Government ‘has not discussed’ the proposals with the BMA ‘in any form’ and added that ‘floating these sorts of proposals via the media is deeply unprofessional’.
The initiative follows NHS England’s revelation that GP winter workload pressures are to be relieved via the hiring of 1,000 additional social prescribing link workers.
And as GPs fear an ‘apocalyptic’ winter as summer workload soars to levels typical for the coldest months of the year and warn of ‘serious concerns’ about the financial and workload implications of the autumn Covid booster programme starting next month.