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ukactive: referral database 'key to improving exercise referral schemes'

ukactive has called for the physical activity sector to increase the amount of evidence it shares on exercise referral schemes.

The industry body said that by sharing more evidence, the sector can study outcomes and "better understand why some schemes are more effective than others". As a result, the sector would be able to create better schemes, maximise its contribution to the NHS and create further opportunities for collaboration.

The call comes after ukactive last month published development plans for the National Referral Database.

The database collects evidence of the outcomes for patients both before and after their participation in an exercise referral scheme.

According to ukactive, the database will "hold the key to unlocking best practice" and improve the effectiveness of delivering referral schemes.

The data currently available for analysis of schemes in the UK does not, however, provide conclusive evidence of the consistent effectiveness of exercise referral schemes, due to its variability.

"We know for a fact that the UK is home to some fantastic exercise referral schemes that are having an incredible impact on the lives of those who need support to achieve improved health and happiness," said ukactive CEO Steven Ward.

"Our latest research, however, shows there is a gap in the effectiveness of schemes, with a limited range of outcomes and participant characteristics being collected.

"if our sector wants to play its full role in our health and social care systems, it is time to take the effectiveness of our programmes to another level, with professional evidence-based processes that enable continuous improvement cycles which are the norm in other parts of the healthcare service."

Dr James Steele, principal investigator at the ukactive Research Institute, added: “We understand better than ever the efficacy of physical activity interventions, yet we still don’t know what works best with respect to wider public health interventions – we don’t really understand what is effective.

“Our research shows that further evidence is required in order to deepen our understanding about what makes some schemes appear more effective than others. It also highlights a lack of evidence around other possible benefits of physical activity, such as improved wellbeing and social connections."

The referral database was set up following calls by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) – in 2014 – to create a system to collate local data on exercise referral schemes to inform future practice.

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