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Most health professionals already undertaking social prescribing


Doug Hendrie


2/10/2019 3:10:33 PM

Almost 70% of healthcare professionals are ‘prescribing’ the social running group parkrun to their patients, according to a new survey.

People running
Prescribing social activity events like parkrun is on the rise among GPs.

The data comes from a parkrun survey of almost 3000 Australian healthcare professionals, including 271 GPs.
 
The survey comes after a successful series of joint events between the RACGP and parkrun, designed to gauge the appetite for the broader practice of social prescribing.
 
Social prescribing began in the UK as a practice where a GP tackles their patient’s loneliness, isolation or low levels of activity by formally writing a ‘prescription’ to a social or exercise group.
 
In response to the survey, RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said GPs are often looking at ways to improve their patients’ health by means other than medication.
 
‘Physical activity is an important part of keeping healthy, and GPs can often prescribe different levels of it to help improve the health of our patients,’ he said.
 
‘parkrun is a great example of a way people can get out of the house, meet new people and increase their physical activity. There are a wide range of programs like this in the community, and I recommend people have a look to find the right group for them.’
 
Last year, the UK’s Royal College of General Practitioners launched an initiative to allow GP clinics to become ‘parkrun practices’ where GPs can help patients join the social running group. Around 10% of all GP clinics in the UK – 1200 – are now signed up.
 
Sydney GP Dr Shriya Gupta regularly prescribes parkrun to her patients, as she has found it personally beneficial.
 
‘As a GP seeing patients regularly with physical and mental health issues, I am always looking for ways to encourage them to improve their health and wellbeing,’ she said.
 
‘Studies have demonstrated the many benefits of physical activity for a patient’s health; however, trying to motivate individuals can often be very difficult, especially when some of these patients are starting from scratch.
 
‘As a keen parkrunner myself, I have seen the many great things about parkrun – it’s free, it’s a weekly event, it’s run in hundreds of locations around the country, you can walk, run or volunteer and it’s social.
 
‘It is for these reasons I enthusiastically prescribe patients to parkrun, with many success stories coming from it.’
 
Founded 15 years ago, parkrun began as a group of 13 friends going for a social run. The group has now spread to 21 countries – from Zimbabwe to Russia to Japan –  with six million people now signed up to walk or run a 5 km course.
 
More than 600,000 Australians have taken part since the organisation launched here in 2011.
 
The model is designed to be non-competitive and highly social, with strong volunteer involvement and, in many courses, a coffee at the end.
 
The recent survey found fitness the top reason healthcare professionals were prescribing parkrun, with 91% of respondents listing it, followed by improved mental wellbeing (78%) and making friends (56%).
 
Participant Steve Connelly had a pacemaker inserted last October. He was prescribed five parkruns by his GP to help regain physical strength and confidence.
 
‘My doctor thought parkrun would be ideal for improving my confidence in a safe environment, as well as having the benefits of regular exercise with a fun group,’ Mr Connelly said.
 
Health and wellbeing spokesman for parkrun Australia, Glen Turner, said the survey supports existing anecdotal evidence that the group is being increasingly used by health professionals as a non-medical referral option.
 
‘Health professionals are a trusted source of advice and regularly engage with people who are most at risk of developing health conditions and are far more likely to be physically inactive,’ he said.
 
‘Referrals to community events such as parkrun therefore have the potential to ease pressure on our health system while meeting the needs of individuals.’
 
The survey found that social prescribing of groups like parkrun was happening informally, with 55% of respondents saying they simply wrote down the name of the website, and 31% saying they wrote down the name of the nearest parkrun.
 

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