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Moving Healthcare Professionals


Moving Healthcare Professionals is a national programme, led by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) and us, to support healthcare professionals to increase their knowledge and skills, and incorporate physical activity within routine care to support quality improvement and better patient outcomes.

During 2023, we worked together to secure the ongoing availability of the programme's assets and resources, to help more healthcare professionals build physical activity into their clinical practice, with leadership coming from a range of partners including Sheffield Hallam University, Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine UK, The British Medical Journal and Intelligent Health.

People working out in the park

The critical role of healthcare professionals to increase activity among people has been highlighted in the national physical activity framework, Everybody Active Every Day, and also supports the government’s Sporting Future strategy, which set an ambition to integrate sport and physical into care pathways.

It was initiated in 2017 and has been designed to:

  • Provide evidence-based training and support resources for healthcare professionals to improve awareness, knowledge, confidence and skills to promote physical activity to patients to prevent and manage ill health
  • Test how to best embed physical activity within clinical practice so that physical activity conversations, signposting and prescribing become part of normal NHS clinical practice
  • Support the management of patients with long-term conditions, including people with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer
  • Help reduce long-term demand and costs on the NHS.  

Our approach to supporting healthcare professionals to embed physical activity into their clinical practice includes peer-led training courses led by physical activity clinical champions, e-learning modules, resources to use during consultations such as the award-winning Moving Medicine platform (winner of the Royal College of Physicians Excellence in patient care award for person-centred care 2020) and the learning from pilots in five NHS Trusts to identify how physical activity can be embedded within the care pathway.

To date, more than 157,000 professionals have engaged with the programme's assets and resources. More than 40,000 healthcare professionals have been trained to include physical activity conversation in their practice with patients by the network of physical activity clinical champions across England. More than 180,000 e-learning modules have been completed and more than 225,000 people have used the Moving Medicine resource. 

The programme has been recognised by the World Health Organisation global action plan on physical activity (2018 -2030) as good practice, and the expansion of the programme until 2022 was launched in the government’s 2019 Prevention Green Paper.

We have used the findings from phases one and two of the programme, alongside a stakeholder review of its resources, to inform our transition of the programme's products and assets to organisations who can enable the approaches to grow, spread and integrate into the appropriate health organisations, where this hasn’t already happened.

We are providing continued leadership to further develop the coalition of allies, collaborating to influence people working in the NHS and social care to prioritise physical activity, and to address health inequalities by building wide bridges of connection with and between partners.

We are working with NHS Horizons and wider partners to influence key health agendas in the NHS until March 2025.

We’ll continue to learn from what has worked and what hasn’t, and share the knowledge gained with our partners.

Why embedding physical activity in healthcare practice is important

Physical activity has been described as a ‘best buy’ in helping people live a healthier life. In the new UK Chief Medical Officers’ (CMOs) physical activity guidelines launched in September 2019, the CMOs reiterated a clear message that “if physical activity were a drug, we would refer to it as a miracle cure, due to the great many illnesses it can prevent and help treat.”

Regular physical activity provides a range of physical and mental health, and social benefits, many of which are increasing issues for individuals, communities and society. These include:

  • reducing the risk of many long-term conditions  
  • helping manage existing conditions and deliver better patient outcomes
  • ensuring good musculoskeletal health
  • developing and maintaining physical and mental function and independence
  • supporting social inclusion and reducing loneliness
  • helping maintain a healthy weight
  • reducing inequalities for people with long-term conditions.

Why we're investing in supporting healthcare professionals

Evidence shows that one in four people would be more active if advised by a GP or nurse, yet nearly three quarters of GPs don't speak about the benefits of physical activity to their patients because of either a lack of knowledge, skills or confidence with 80% reporting being unfamiliar with the national physical activity guidelines.

This can be linked to a lack of training and support, with less than half confident in the area and more than half having not received specific training. Healthcare professionals can reach a large percentage of the population. More than one in 10 people visit their GP every two weeks and there are 1.2 million health-related visits to a community pharmacy every day.

There are over 650,000 healthcare professionals in the country who are estimated to each see nearly half a million patients during their career. They’re also considered a trusted source of advice, so what they say about physical activity and how they raise it as a topic could have a big impact on activity levels.

In addition, people who are regularly engaging with healthcare professionals (those with, or at risk of, developing health conditions) are far more likely to be inactive and are also more likely to be key target audiences that we’ve identified. For example, people facing the highest level of economic disadvantage have a 60% higher prevalence of health conditions compared to those facing the least economic disadvantage, and 30% more severity of disease.

The absence of physical activity across the training spectrum from basic training to continuing professional development for healthcare professionals has been a major blocker in normalising conversations about physical activity in healthcare settings, alongside perceptions of the time available to incorporate conversations in practice and concerns about risk.

But the opportunity to make a difference is huge. If one in four of the inactive population received and acted on advice from their healthcare professional there would 2.9 million less inactive adults in England who would be gaining the benefits of moving more.

With an increasing number of people living with and managing long-term conditions and the strong evidence base for physical activity as a prevention and treatment tool it is important that healthcare professionals have the knowledge, skills and confidence to have physical activity conversations with patients.

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