Walking and cycling on prescription possible in West Midlands

More patients across the West Midlands could be given cycling and walking on prescription after a successful pilot showed improvements in participants’ physical and mental health.

The Department for Transport  has handed £98,000 to the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) to further develop a plan to deliver a three-year social prescribing pilot across Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton.

Social prescribing is designed to tackle health inequality by offering patients with certain health conditions living in disadvantaged communities free-to-access cycling and walking activities, such as walking groups, free bikes and cycle training.

A successful initial pilot of the scheme was delivered in Birmingham and the Black Country throughout summer 2021 and saw 79 GPs help over 560 patients through targeted engagement and support designed to meet their individual needs.

The programme will follow a collaborative approach between health professionals including GPs and link workers, to develop a bespoke programme of activity based on the needs of the local community. When available, patients will be able to join walking or cycling groups at their local practice or community and will be able to connect with others, get active and build confidence.

Izzi Seccombe, WMCA's Wellbeing Board chair and leader of Warwickshire County Council, said: "As Wellbeing Board, we are working together to address the health inequalities in the region by exploring new and innovative ways to tackle key health issues, including obesity, poor health, inactivity and loneliness. A programme like this will not only create opportunities for people to travel actively, build confidence and improve their wellbeing, it will also help connect people to the new walking and cycling routes which will be delivered across the region this year.”

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “Last year I witnessed first-hand how this programme can benefit our communities and change lives, and I am keen we now look to roll it out across the whole region.

“Securing this funding is another step forward in making that happen, and I hope that as we develop this initiative we can continue to successfully tackle some of the West Midlands’ underlying health issues and become the first region in the UK to adopt this approach. Not only does cycling and walking help to improve people’s mental and physical health, as well as their quality of life more generally, it also helps us in reducing air pollution and tackling the climate emergency.”

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