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Burnham outlines Labour vision for activity-focused NHS

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Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham believes the coalition has failed to tackle Britain’s inactivity epidemic and has pledged that physical activity would be available on prescription from every GP surgery under a Labour government.

With less than six months until the 2015 general election, the respected physical activity advocate made the bold pledge at the ukactive National Summit in central London this afternoon (13 November). In his keynote address, the MP for Leigh said Labour would make physical activity a national priority and ensure exercise can be prescribed by having an exercise professional on staff at every GP surgery.

There was also the pledge of a more people-focused NHS under Labour, embracing physical activity to make healthcare preventative and the organisation more financially sustainable.

"This is the decade of the ageing society. Does anyone think we can carry on as we are with a treatment culture?” he asked, adding that there is a need to empower individuals to take control of their lives. "Pharmaceutical companies may not like it, but bad luck."

He said that changing activity patterns is the easiest lifestyle change to make, but acknowledged that many still struggle and must be supported. “The message of physical activity should be all inclusive so people do not feel intimidated,” he added.

Burnham said the habits of a healthy lifestyle must be instilled from an early age. He outlined plans to set new standards for food in schools – with targets such as reduced fat and salt – as well as the goal of ensuring that all children should leave school with the ability to swim and ride a bike safely.

To boost activity levels from an early age, Burnham called for longer school opening hours from 8am to 6pm so that sport is available both before and after school.

For the general population, the shadow health secretary announced a new national ambition to get people more physically active. This would seek gradual change, first by slightly raising the recommended minimum levels now, but also by setting a more ambitious level with the aim that at least 50 per cent of the population will be meeting it by 2025. To make this achievable, Burnham called on councils and businesses to do more to ensure that activity hubs such as parks and leisure centres are more easily accessible. He also said roads need to be made safer so that running and cycling are a viable option right across the country.

Although largely preaching to the choir, Burnham’s speech was warmly received by those in the room, with several industry figures taking to Twitter to show their support.

CIMPSA vice-chair Carl Bennett wrote: “Class act. Simple Factual. Passionate. Owner. #hero,” and ukactive CEO David Stalker described Burnham as a “man on a mission.”

Meanwhile, Health Club Management editorial director Liz Terry said Burnham's vision rekindled the flames of New Labour activity initiatives that have largely been snuffed out by the current government.

"The last Labour government was the first in history to focus on the vital area of prevention and to understand that waiting for people to develop bad lifestyle habits and then trying and fix them when they get sick just isn't sustainable," she said after watching the keynote address.

"Labour – and Burnham's – commitment to this cause is exciting for the industry. Regardless of how things pan out at the next election, having one of the major political parties expressing such high aspirations for our industry and proposing creative and effective solutions ensures it stays right at the top of the political agenda."

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Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham believes the coalition has failed to tackle Britain’s inactivity epidemic and has pledged that physical activity would be a priority under a Labour government.
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