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New long-term plan for NHS – what will it mean for physical activity?

Prime Minister Theresa May has revealed a new long-term plan for the NHS, saying that it will help "secure the future of the health service", with measures to support people at all stages of life.

Speaking at a launch event in Liverpool today (7 January), May said the plan will "save almost 500,000 more lives" and "reshape the NHS around the changing needs of patients".

Major threads in the 10-yearNHS Long-Term Plan include preventative healthcare and encouraging people to "take control of their own health".

The plan also includes a commitment to increase investment in technology and improving mental health services.

But while there is a recognition of the need for focusing on pre-emptive measures – including action to combat obesity and diabetes – there is little detail on how the government plans to use physical activity in its preventative work.

A quick search of the 136-page document reveals that the words "sport" or "fitness" aren't mentioned once. The term "physical activity" makes a solitary appearance.

The few initiatives which explicitly mention physical exercise are to do with plans to expand social prescribing and introduce exercise-based rehabilitation programmes for people with heart and lung diseases.

Measures to tackle obesity, for example, place focus solely on improving diets – the chapter on obesity includes no detail or plans on how to get people more physically active.

Responding to the plan, Steven Ward, CEO of ukactive, said: “The plan promises to save 500,000 lives over 10 years, but we know physical inactivity alone will cause up to 370,000 premature deaths and costs us £200bn over the same period.

"The plan’s omission of physical activity is disappointing, but ukactive is ready to work with the government to elevate the importance of a holistic approach and achieve radical change.

“We do welcome the focus on prevention, mental health and technology and the recognition that a lack of exercise is a leading cause of premature death.

“The NHS Comprehensive Model of Personalised Care also reflects ukactive’s lobbying call to use social prescribing to improve prevention and rehabilitation, with 2.5 million more people set to benefit within five years.

"With the commitment to supporting more than one million people to access support via social prescribing programmes, the physical activity sector stands ready and armed with the capacity and motivation to assure success."

Commenting on the plan, Andy Reed, founder of Sports Think Tank, said: "While I welcome the focus on prevention, I think I speak for the entire physical activity sector in saying that we were expecting to see concrete plans on how sport and exercise could be harnessed to alleviate the pressures placed on the NHS.

"There needs to be a proper plan and proper resources allocated to prevention if the government wants to hit its ambitious targets – such as ensuring people can enjoy five extra healthy, independent years of life by 2035.

"I fear that, while physical activity has definitely moved up the government agenda over the past 20 years, the message is still not getting through to government."

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