Patients at London’s Guy’s & St Thomas’ hospital can now get physiotherapy sessions in their local leisure centre gym

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Physiotherapy patients are being offered treatment in leisure centres thanks to a tie-up between London hospital, Guy’s and St Thomas’s and local operators, with the arrangement brokered by UK Active as part of its MSK pilots initiative.

With musculoskeletal conditions accounting for the third largest spend for the NHS, the 18-month pilot is an example of how the physical activity sector can support the health service in providing treatment for people living with major health conditions.

Around 25,000 patients are expected to benefit from the initiative which is funded by the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity. Half are suffering from lower back pain, for which regular exercise is key to recovery. The majority of the others need to improve their fitness and muscle strength, due to underlying conditions such as injuries, arthritis or fibromyalgia.

Patients benefit from access to the expertise of the hospital’s physio team, combined with a much wider range of equipment and space than that on offer in the hospital’s gyms.

This is allowing physios to see three patients at a time, cutting wait times and enabling patients to benefit from a social element which has been shown to improve attendance.

Three leisure centres are involved: Castle Leisure Centre in the Elephant and Castle [Southwark Leisure]; Brixton Recreation Centre [Lambeth Council] and Streatham Ice and Leisure Centre [Active Lambeth].

The pilot at Castle Leisure Centre is approaching its first anniversary and an average of 150 to 200 patients are now seen weekly.

It is hoped that holding sessions at local gyms will give people the confidence to become members after the programme. As further encouragement they are allowed to use the other facilities, including the pool, sauna and streamrooms, for free when they attend appointments and are given a discounted membership on completion.

Jenny Heal, project lead and clinical lead musculoskeletal physiotherapist, hopes this initiative can be rolled out more widely across the Trust: “It’s very important to empower patients to be responsible for their own health. By making it easier for them to access physiotherapy close to home, we’re providing support which should lead to a better quality of life, as well as a reduced burden on the health service.”

Huw Edwards, CEO of UK Active, said: “With such increasing pressure on the health service, our sector is providing accessible facilities and equipment to help patients get the therapy they need to live long, healthy and more active lives.”

Elsewhere, Mytime Active has joined the UK Active Musculoskeletal Health Hubs pilot programme and launched three Musculoskeletal Health Hubs at Bromley at the Spa in Beckenham; Walnuts Leisure Centre in Orpington and Hatchford Brooke Golf Centre and Gym in the Midlands. Each centre is offering a six-week health programme with targeted exercise sessions in the gym and pool.

The launch forms part of a two-year research project, led by a health and fitness consortium including Arthritis Action, Escape-pain, Good Boost, Orthopaedic Research UK and UK Active, which aims to identify how to transform leisure facilities into MSK hubs that can be accessed in every community.

Diane Friday, active lifestyles programme manager at Mytime Active says: “MSK conditions are the primary cause of disability among older adults, with more than 20 million people in the UK experiencing related problems, such as arthritis, back or knee ache and chronic pain.

“While this initiative can’t cure these conditions, it does go a long way to help people manage their pain and improve their mobility. It’s also an alternative to surgery for the estimated one million people who are waiting for NHS orthopaedic treatments.”

Many people suffering from chronic pain worry exercise will make the symptoms worse, however programmes such as these empower individuals to use exercise to alleviate their symptoms and improve their overall wellbeing.

MSK background

Parkwood Leisure launched its MSK programme in August 2023. Find out more here.

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