As part of the government's quest to improve the nation's health, Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), controlled by local GPs, now have the power to allocate funding to services they feel will improve the health and welfare of their local communities.
These services can include the engagement of health and fitness professionals to address the provision of physical activity and exercise in specific communities.
There is actually huge scope for qualified exercise professionals to be involved now that the days of 'gym only' referral schemes are gone. Firstly, EPs need to be qualified to work with patients diagnosed with relevant medical conditions.
The current guidance requires instructors to have successfully completed the Level 3 Exercise Referral qualification with pre-requisites of Level 3 personal training and nutrition units.
Personal trainers are required to demonstrate competence in supporting patients with various medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidaemia, obesity, orthopaedic conditions, low back pain, respiratory disease and mental health issues. As you would expect for such a specialist area, personal trainers need both practical and theoretical knowledge.
Links between less affluent communities and poor health status have long been proven. It's the reason previous NHS expectations for exercise referral schemes required up to 40% of referrals to come out of these 'super output areas' (SOAs). This guideline is not just restricted to exercise, the most successful schemes are the ones that adopt a holistic approach of lifestyle change, also incorporating weight management and smoking cessation services to run alongside exercise referral.
Due to the need to reach all segments of the community there is far more scope for local authorities to employ exercise professionals with a wide skill set as part of these wide-reaching life-style schemes. They will aim to provide all aspects of physical activity including gym access, health walks, Nordic Walking, cycling for health, Tai Chi, yoga, Pilates, aqua/water based exercise, boot camp and specialist group exercise (e.g. falls, cardiac, respiratory, neurological).
As an Exercise Referral qualified personal trainer you could find yourself delivering specialist sessions in all sorts of venues, including church halls or community centres in order to hit the SOA targets. There will be a need to reach out and enter the community, rather than unsuccessfully waiting for them to come to us.
Technically, the funding for these services does not have to follow public sector route. Suitably qualified professionals can put in private tenders for sections of the services required by the CCGs. If they meet the criteria, are cost effective and are able to demonstrate they can meet the health improvement targets they will have as good a chance as any to win the business. With this in mind, it is worth adding a qualification in Exercise Management for Low Back Pain.
This would be another door opened via the Exercise Referral qualification and lead to success all round – local health improvement and increased levels of physical activity, leading to more awareness and revenue in the industry.
However we choose to embrace this new situation, we as fitness professionals should see it as a further opportunity to enhance client participation in exercise, something that is drastically needed if we are to survive this current trend in health inequality.