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By Annie Holden, Active Partnerships | 11 October 2023 | TAGS: health

Last month the Active Partnerships national organisation, along with GM Moving, Sport England, NHS Horizons and other key partners, held an event asking attendees to consider how we can help integrate physical activity into health and care.

The event brought together representatives from across physical activity and healthcare sectors, and it highlighted the collaborative work that has been happening in this area, both nationally and locally through Active Partnerships.

Annie Holden, Active Partnerships' Strategic Health Lead, explains why the event was organised, the focus so far and what the next steps will be, to try and better integrate physical activity into health and care:

"Last month saw the culmination of a lot of hard work from colleagues and partners to bring together representatives from across physical activity and health, as well as those working within the health and care sector.

This event helped us understand local priorities and what integrating physical activity into health and care systems looks like at place, across the Active Partnerships (AP) Network, to help increase connections and collectively create the conditions through a whole systems approach.

It was an opportunity to review the work that we’ve all been doing in recent months and a chance to discuss the next steps as we continue our mission to encourage and support health and care professionals to embrace and embed physical activity into the work that they do with service users.

The task we’ve set ourselves is not an easy one. The structure of health and care is very complex, physical activity is currently chronically under-utilised within routine care, and our workforce in the physical activity sector mostly goes unrecognised and is poorly represented.

We can play a key role in prevention, as well as management of long-term conditions and diseases, and should be seen as the first line of healthcare but right now that just isn’t happening.

Physical inactivity in itself is a significant risk factor for ill health, and this similarly is not recognised.

But we shouldn’t let these challenges stop us because we know there is also a huge opportunity to have an integrated approach and it’s clear that we need to embrace this opportunity and act now, as with an aging population, the challenges will only multiply.

Currently there are 11 million people who are 65+ in the UK but this will increase to 13 million (22% of the population) in ten years’ time. 43% of the population has a long-term health condition and by 2035 two thirds will be managing multiple conditions.

People living with long term conditions are also more likely to suffer from mental health problems, another important consideration, and the data also reveals huge variations, with these challenges completely exacerbated in deprived areas and across minority ethnic groups.

How can we solve the challenges we face?

Well, the work we’ve been doing across physical activity and health and care sectors, culminating in last week’s event, is definitely a step in the right direction.

We need to continue influencing health and care colleagues, encouraging them to prioritise physical activity, improving pathways between health and organised activity and we need to champion the key role that movement can play in positive mental health and wellbeing.

What has also emerged is a need to break down the barriers that are associated with risk.

Collectively we’ve seen a nervousness around being active and exercising particularly for those with long term health conditions, so we need to allay the fears and concerns that people have because the evidence shows that in the majority of cases, the greater risk to health is actually inactivity itself.

The health agenda is daunting but there’s an appetite to co-create and enable change and with our partners we have recently been exploring how we could work together in a more connected way.

At a recent House of Lords Roundtable event, there was a commitment to collaborate with cross sector partnerships and cross governmental commitments to prevention and physical activity.

At a local level, we wanted to clear the fog and find a path to cut through the complexities and understand a clear way forward and the Active Partnerships’ Health Working Group at the start of last year, has been helping to make this happen.

We know there is no single answer to the challenge of integrating physical activity into the health and care systems but by tapping into the expertise across our network, we’ve been making clear progress.

Last month’s event in Manchester provided a further opportunity to collaborate across our important Active Partnerships network, with a chance to connect, share learning, and it provided a platform to identify issues and start working on solutions.

There is clearly a collective appetite and energy to integrate physical activity across these systems and people are increasingly recognising that Active Partnerships are the local experts - not only do they have the coverage, but they also understand their communities and have established links into those communities.

At this Manchester event, it was great to hear updates from partners outlining their national ambitions to integrate physical activity into health and care systems. Some of our Active Partnerships also shared their local examples of the progress being achieved at place.

We captured reflections from everyone that attended, and we’re going to collate and analysing key learnings, as well as identifying how we can strengthen, connect, and enable the Active Partnerships network to progress in this area.

We undoubtedly have an opportunity now to work collaboratively, connecting national, regional and local partners to enable physical activity to be truly embedded across health and care systems.

The energy in the room at our event in Manchester has reinforced the collective ambition to galvanise our efforts, giving us more momentum to move this agenda on at pace.

I’m now looking forward to the next stage of our journey.

To read more about our work in Greater Manchester to design movement and physical activity into health and social care, click here

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