One of the biggest pressures faced by our health and social care system today is the increase in long-term conditions such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, arthritis, cancer and depression.
Inactivity due to ill health costs the UK economy £15 billion a year. And existing inequalities mean that people living in disadvantaged areas are more likely to become ill.
We know that helping people maintain an active lifestyle leads to better health, particularly among those with long-term conditions. But the failure of successive NHS strategies has proved that getting people to move more is harder than it sounds.
As partners with the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine, we have helped Sheffield rise to the challenge — by pioneering a world-first new model for health services.
By moving clinical appointments out of hospitals and doctors’ surgeries and into specially designed community leisure centres, we’ve played a key role in helping thousands of people to become more active — and allowing NHS staff to work more closely together.
How the idea developed
It all started with the London 2012 Olympic Games. As part of the tournament’s legacy, the government set up the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine (NCSEM), with one of its three hubs located in Sheffield.
Its aim was to improve health and wellbeing services by bringing together people from different sectors, including council bodies, NHS trusts and academics — including us here at the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre.
At the same time, local NHS managers were reviewing how they provide their musculoskeletal services. Through the new centre, we were brought in to discuss how they might deliver services differently. After consulting patients we found many wanted to be supported to be more mobile and active, rather than having an operation.
At the same time, we found that physiotherapists were often working on their own in GP surgeries. They didn't have the opportunity to speak to other colleagues and share ideas for treatment.
We thought about how to tackle both challenges — helping people stay active, and enabling more collaboration between clinicians. Our answer was to move hospital and GP appointments into the community. And that’s how we came up with Move More centres.
So what is a Move More centre?
Through the NCSEM, we have created three Move More centres in Sheffield, all based in leisure centres which were already embedded in the communities they serve.
Walk into one and at first glance it looks like a regular leisure centre, with a gym, swimming pool and a cafe. But look closer and you’ll see crutches, wheelchairs and other signs of limited mobility.
That’s because it’s also used as an NHS waiting room for appointments for people with long-term conditions such as musculoskeletal problems or diabetes, and for those recovering from neurological events like strokes.
Once called up, patients are taken to one of 20 large clinical rooms and assessed. They are often put on a 12-week supported programme of physical activity. Often, you’ll see physiotherapists taking their patient straight into the gym next door to get them started.