Are Australia’s GPs ready for social prescribing?

Doug Hendrie

26/07/2019 3:14:26 PM

The RACGP is exploring a potential collaboration with social running organisation parkrun – depending on GP interest. 

Social running group parkrun.
A parkrun event in Wondai, Queensland.

On weekends, GP Dr Elaine Leung will often hit the running track. Last year, she ran the Yurrebilla 56 kilometre ultramarathon for the first time. Running, she says, makes her feel great.
So it’s no surprise that as Dr Leung sees patients in a clinic in Adelaide’s south during the week, she will often ask if they’ve considered taking up running.
‘It’s a really great exercise to recommend to patients. It’s cheap, and you don’t need equipment other than a pair of running shoes. Beyond the physical benefits, it has lots of great mental health benefits as well,’ she told newsGP.
‘I’m always looking for a way to encourage my patients to consider running. One of the biggest barrier is that people don’t know where to start. I want to give them something more concrete than suggesting they exercise more.’

Recently, Dr Leung has started recommending a new approach – parkrun, which combines physical activity with a social setting.
More than 1300 general practices in the UK have signed up to ‘prescribe’ their patients the social and physical activity group after an agreement between the UK’s Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and parkrun.
Social prescribing has taken off in recent years, driven by interest in ways of tackling chronic disease and the epidemic of loneliness afflicting many societies.
In the coming weeks, the RACGP will host events in capital cities around the country in conjunction with parkrun, to gauge the level of interest in social prescribing among Australian GPs.
If the events are successful, it could lead to a potential collaboration with parkrun.
Dr Leung will be a GP advocate at the Adelaide event.
‘The important thing about parkrun is that you don’t have to run – you can walk. You can bring the stroller – I see a lot of mums doing it. And it’s social,’ she said. 

‘We know that you’re much more likely to exercise if you do it with a friend, because they’ll notice if you’re not there. That means you’re more likely to turn up.’ 
Parkrun health and wellbeing lead Glen Turner told newsGP that the UK experience had been an ‘overwhelming success’ and came after a survey of 2000 UK healthcare professionals found many were already doing social prescribing.
‘We’d like to equip GPs to do something similar in Australia. These RACGP events are an opportunity for us to talk about the experience in the UK. We know informally that it’s already happening here and that it’s very widespread,’ he said.
Mr Turner said that parkrun began as a running group 15 years ago, but has now widened into a community event based around physical activity and volunteering.
‘It’s not about the run – it’s about open spaces, participating, and taking part regularly. It’s called parkrun, but it’s much more than a run in a park,’ he said.
‘We’re committed to working as closely as we can with the RACGP – parkrun has moved to a point where we’re trying to involve people in our events who are on the margins in society. Those least likely to take part in physical activity and the most socially disconnected. These are the people with the most to gain – but they’re the least likely to hear about it.
‘Access to these people through GPs is incredibly powerful for us to find an audience our communications activities don’t reach.
‘It [parkrun] is about finding a way for everyone to get involved in the event, whether walking, running, volunteering, or spectating and having a coffee at the end, because every parkrun finishes with a coffee.’
RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said GPs were often looking at ways to improve their patient’s health other than by using medication.
‘Exercise is an important part of keeping healthy, and GPs can often prescribe different levels of exercise 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.’
More than half a million Australians have completed a Saturday morning parkrun. The volunteer-led five kilometre event is designed around volunteerism, social contact and participation.
Parkrun Australia CEO Tim Oberg last year told newsGP he saw the event as a way to bring the community together.
‘People can exercise anywhere. So we don’t sell it as a five kilometre run anymore,’ he said.

‘We sell it as bringing the community together. The volunteering side of parkrun is absolutely key, and we have a lot who engage purely as volunteers. There’s so much engagement there. It’s incredibly important.’
The RACGP is hosting information events about parkrun from 6.30 – 8.30pm in state offices, which will include a presentation from a parkrun representative and one or more GP advocates.

Events will be held on Wednesday 31 July (Brisbane), Monday 5 August (Sydney), Wednesday 7 August (Adelaide and Melbourne), Monday 12 August (Perth) and Thursday 15 August (Hobart). Registration is online through RACGP Specific Interests.

chronic disease loneliness mental health physical activity social prescribing

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ALLAN S WALLEY   27/07/2019 10:11:41 AM

Interestingly I already “do” the Parkrun, down in Margaret River and already prescribe the run to my patients. I due to age and a few worn out joints walk the Parkrun, leading by example. Apart from the physical aspect of the run/walk, it is also very relaxing due to the gentle rhythm of running/walking, the brain likes gentle rhythms. It is also very social, we stay for coffees after the run. I also prescribe the “Men’s Shed, an excellent organisation.

Chris Jones   27/07/2019 10:33:12 AM

I’ve been a Park Runner for the past 5 yrs, and guide a 70yr old blind patient regularly, and we recently completed the Gold Coast 10km event. Park Run is for everyone, of all ages, sizes and abilities and a fantastic community event that is a great example for health and wellbeing. If I could formally prescribe it, I would 👍

Nick   27/07/2019 12:20:55 PM

I have been using the park run as motivation for selected stressed or depressed patients for the past two years. It is fantastic and highly recommended - runners can track their times and compare to their prior performance. It is an extremely well run event. I have many other patients who run it regularly as well. I would love to see collaboration between the two. Brilliant idea!

Simon Holliday   27/07/2019 8:52:28 PM

I often recommend ParkRun to my patients, quite a few who attend. ParkRun rivalries cause almost as much sledging as various football teams. Most people jog/walk it but some do the 5Km (or part thereof) by wheelchair, with prams or with their dogs. It is great community engagement. I suspect it is the runners equivalent of Rotary as lots of the connections made before or after the run spill over into work or play. I would encourage all GP colleagues to try it and recommend it.

cv   28/07/2019 6:58:54 AM

I think dancing would be good for oldies and disabled

Alison Latta   3/08/2019 6:19:43 AM

I Parkrun regularly at San Remo NSW. I love it. I hope we are already social prescribing and that it is not a new concept

Dr Amanda Cohn   3/08/2019 9:08:51 AM

I think this is a wonderful idea - I am a keen parkrunner myself and I'd love to be involved but I live in a regional area and can't attend any of the sessions!

Rolf hillmann   5/08/2019 9:03:27 AM

I also prescribe it and as previously described it is not only about the psysical activity but also the social interaction.
A partnership with the RACGP would be amazing!