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Outdoor exercise is the new medicine for patients in the West Midlands


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More patients across the West Midlands could be given cycling and walking on prescription after a successful pilot showed improvements in participants’ physical and mental health.


The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has been handed £98,000 by the Department for Transport to develop a plan to deliver a three-year social prescribing pilot across Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton.


Social prescribing is designed to tackle health inequality by offering patients with certain health conditions living in disadvantaged communities free-to-access cycling and walking activities, such as walking groups, free bikes and cycle training.


Cllr Izzi Seccombe, WMCA’s Wellbeing Board chair and leader of Warwickshire County Council, said: “As Wellbeing Board, we are working together to address the health inequalities in the region by exploring new and innovative ways to tackle key health issues, including obesity, poor health, inactivity and loneliness.


“A programme like this will not only create opportunities for people to travel actively, build confidence and improve their wellbeing, it will also help connect people to the new walking and cycling routes which will be delivered across the region this year.”


A successful initial pilot of the scheme was delivered in Birmingham and the Black Country throughout summer 2021 and saw 79 GPs help over 560 patients through targeted engagement and support designed to meet their individual needs. The latest funding marks the next step to deliver exercise on prescription across the entire West Midlands.


The inspiration behind the West Midlands’ bid to take part in the government pilot is people like Art Gilchrist, 53, from Bordesley Green. Art was put in contact with local link worker Leila Yafai from The Active Wellbeing Society by his GP following an injury suffered before the pandemic.


Adam Tranter, West Midlands Cycling and Walking Commissioner, added: “Cycling and walking can be transformative to people’s health – and when people lead active lives, it has the potential to reduce strain on our NHS. Our initial pilot showed huge potential and I hope that we can roll this out across the region with additional funding.”


The report findings are due to be completed in spring 2022 and will measure results compared to traditional medical interventions. The results will form part of a wider funding bid to make social prescribing available to patients across the whole of the West Midlands in 2023.


Written by: David Watkins

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