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Health minister heaps praise on referral scheme

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Minister for health John Hutton has praised Southwark’s exercise referral scheme as a wonderful example of a partnership approach to health.

Run by management company Fusion in partnership with Southwark Council, the referral scheme enables GPs in Southwark to refer patients who are identified as being at moderate or high risk of developing coronary heart disease onto a scheme which promotes and encourages an active and healthier lifestyle.

Patients receive individual consultations, supervised physical activity sessions and lifestyle education at a reduced cost.

Fusion currently delivers 12 gym-based sessions (a total of 23 hours) per week across four leisure centres. The service is offered from three to six months depending on the needs of the individual.

The chief executive of Fusion, Audrey Stirling, said demand for the referral programme had exceeded the trust’s expectations and it aimed to expand the initiative.

“The exercise referral program has been an overwhelming success. The team has worked hard to boost confidence levels and we are now looking to extend the program and increase the level of support, which will help maintain the new healthy lifestyles of participants,” she said.

“Our goal is to open this up to more people through additional funding and work with new partners to encourage and support lasting lifestyle change.”

The minister praised the service while visiting Peckham Pulse Healthy Living Centre to see exercise referral in action.

“The NHS should be a health service as well as a sickness service and is just as much about keeping people fit and healthy,” he said.

“We want to do more to promote healthy lifestyles linked with the Choosing Health White Paper and roll this out to all community groups across Southwark. The Southwark Exercise Referral Service is a perfect example of how this is being achieved and tackling the big killer diseases like diabetes and obesity.”

The visit coincided with the announcement of a £135bn investment in the NHS to be allocated to English Primary Care Trusts for the two financial years 2006/07 and 2007/08. The money will guarantee the NHS continues to deliver improved services and make further progress in tackling the big killer diseases like cancer and heart disease. There is also a major focus on healthy lifestyle initiatives such as exercise referral.

In Southwark this equates to an additional investment of more than £30m per year for the two years, representing a spend of £1,825 per head of population by 2008, said Chris Bull, chief executive of Southwark PCT and director of social services. “The increases in funding will allow us to tackle areas that we know of are importance to local people such as tackling the growing trend for obesity and to provide improved x-ray and pathology services.”

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Minister for health John Hutton has praised Southwark’s exercise referral scheme as a wonderful example of a partnership approach to health.
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