Connecting GPs with community: RACGP–parkrun partnership

Morgan Liotta

19/04/2022 4:49:44 PM

The new parkrun practice initiative aims to promote social prescribing by strengthening links between practices and their community.

Group of people running in park
Community connection such as social running has been proven to improve health and wellbeing.

With the benefits of social prescribing now widely known, many healthcare professionals and organisations support the RACGP’s call for its formal inclusion in national long-term healthcare plans and standard primary care.
The recently released primary health care 10-year plan 2022–32 also states that social prescribing will have a formal place in Australian general practice, recognising that it ‘seeks to address people’s needs in a holistic way’ and ‘aims to support individuals to take greater control of their own health’.
One model of social prescribing successfully hitting the mark is parkrun, having already been prescribed by many GPs since Australia adopted the UK initiative in 2019.
This month, the RACGP has partnered with parkrun on the parkrun practice initiative to widen the health and wellbeing benefits for both patients and practice staff.
Dr James Ibrahim is inaugural Chair of RACGP Specific Interests Social Prescribing, launched in March this year to better support GPs with integrating it into their practice.
He told newsGP the new initiative is an important step in strengthening connections between general practices and the local community, as well as helping to standardise social prescribing in Australia.
‘We have to recognise there is [currently] no universal formal pathway for Australian GPs to offer social prescribing in their practice,’ Dr Ibrahim said.
‘Unlike other countries where this is well incorporated into clinical workflow, we don’t yet have a simple pathway forward.
‘The more proactive groups like parkrun are paving a way forward as exemplars for what a partnership would look like. It is a fantastic example that we hope other groups and activities will soon follow suit with.’
Set up as a voluntary collaboration between general practices and local parkrun events, the partnership means practices can approach their local parkrun for events such as a ‘volunteer take over’, where the practice team supplies the volunteers for a day.
Newly prescribed parkrun patients can then be ‘referred’ on a given day to participate.
According to the RACGP, being a parkrun practice helps GPs to improve the health and wellbeing of practice staff and patients, support the move towards personalised care and social prescribing, and improve morale and relationships between staff members and other practices.
Dr Ibrahim, who prescribes parkrun to his patients, said the RACGP–parkrun partnership is a ‘fantastic example’ of how groups and activities can partner with primary care.
‘It is one of the very few almost universally applicable social prescribing options to patients out there for their cardiovascular, mental, metabolic and social health,’ he said.
‘What all patients have fed back to me is the tremendous social value it brings to their lives, and the added routine.
‘It is also important for our practice image. Our patients need to see and know that these aspects of their health and wellbeing are also part of our core business as their GPs, to see we are a practice that is passionate about their socio-cultural wellbeing.’
Adelaide GP and parkrun ambassador Dr Patrick Daly also prescribes parkrun to his patients and welcomes the new initiative. He told newsGP there is ‘a large body of evidence’ for the benefits of exercise in the prevention and treatment of a wide variety of health issues.
‘By collaborating with an organisation such as parkrun that has inclusiveness and wellbeing as its core values, this aligns well with the holistic, community-based health focus that GPs deliver every day,’ Dr Daly said.
‘Social prescribing as a concept is not new, but I feel that the collaboration between the national GP body, the RACGP, and a worldwide social enterprise such as parkrun, hopefully provides patients with a trusted “prescription” for exercise that has both validity and an evidence base.’
To implement parkrun prescribing in practices, Dr Daly recommends GPs start with standard care they already provide.
‘Conversations about preventive health and wellbeing happen every day in general practice, meaning that GPs are perfectly placed to introduce the concept of attending parkrun,’ he said.
‘[For example], during a GP management plan or simple medication review for hypertension, through to a postnatal check-up or mental health care plan. Getting a visual presence in the waiting room, with posters and banners, can also be a helpful primer. 
‘Advising on the benefits of exercise is second nature to GPs and tailoring the experience to our patient is also important, as parkrun offers many different ways to get involved.’
Participants of parkrun can choose to run, walk, push a pram or take the dog for a walk alongside those running, or volunteer to marshal the course.
‘I tend to broach the idea to patients in a range of consultations by asking what they currently do for exercise, followed by asking if they have Saturday morning free,’ Dr Daly said.
‘Suggesting that there is a no-cost way to exercise that can be done by any ability is helpful. I often plant a seed of interest by showing an image or two from the parkrun [social media] pages. 
‘Social prescribing is more than just exercise. People of any age can gain benefits through attending parkrun because simply attending each week or volunteering has wide benefits, such as reducing social isolation, and it helps build a sense of community.
‘There are benefits for mental, emotional and physical health.’
A number of resources for general practices, including posters and social media assets, are available for download on the RACGP website.
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