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'Prescription cycling' to be trialled in Doncaster

Under the pilot scheme, GPs will ask patients to "walk, wheel or cycle" as an alternative to drugs and medical procedures.

Ross sneddon Px IN0g2 XI Yg unsplash

GPs in Doncaster could soon be prescribing bikes instead of medicines.

Ross Sneddon on Unsplash.

Doncaster is set to host a pioneering trial which will see doctors 'prescribe' patients with physical activity to tackle both physical and mental health conditions.

The experiment, which is also being run in ten other places including Leeds, will incorporate new cycling and walking groups, cycle training for adults and free bike loans.

The idea behind 'social prescribing' is that non-medical interventions can potentially have a better effect on health and wellbeing than more traditional measures like prescription drugs.

As well as walking and cycling, other social prescribing schemes in the UK have included book clubs, gardening, cookery classes and art groups.

"Moving more will lead to a healthier nation, a reduced burden on the NHS, less cancer, heart disease and diabetes, as well as huge cost savings," said former Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman, who is now England's Active Travel Commissioner.

"This trial aims to build on existing evidence to show how bringing transport, active travel and health together can make a positive impact on communities across England."

Doncaster will receive £665,000 out of an overall pot of £12.7m across the country, with the pilot projects taking place between this year and 2025.

Despite having one of the best healthcare systems in the world, the UK suffers from particularly poor public health compared to other European countries.

This is because of extremely high levels of inequality and poverty in this country, both of which have a direct correlation with poor health outcomes.

"Our public health is so appalling, no health service could cope with so much preventable illness," said former doctor and Private Eye writer Phil Hammond on Twitter recently.

"The pandemic has taught us beyond doubt that health is largely environmentally, politically and socially determined, far more so than what a doctor does to you," he added.

As a result of decades of government policy which have exacerbated inequality, South Yorkshire is now one of the poorest regions in the whole of northern Europe, which social prescribing will do little to tackle.

In 2020, research by public health expert Sir Michael Marmot found that poverty and austerity are responsible for UK life expectancy flatlining for the first time in 100 years – and in some areas actually falling.

“Poverty has a grip on our nation’s health – it limits the options families have available to live a healthy life," Sir Michael told the Guardian. "Government health policies that focus on individual behaviours are not effective."

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