A two-year research project will look to find ways to transform the UK's physical activity facilities into musculoskeletal (MSK) hubs that could be used by the National Health Service (NHS).
Called Healthy Ageing Challenge, the project aims to design a system-based approach to better integrate leisure facilities within the nation’s healthcare infrastructure, turning them into a locally accessible network of community ‘MSK hubs’.
The project is being driven by a consortium which includes social enterprise Good Boost, industry body UK Active, Orthopaedic Research UK, group rehabilitation programme ESCAPE-pain, and Arthritis Action.
The project, which has secured £1.4m worth of investment, will test the delivery of accessible and affordable personalised services for exercise, rehabilitation, wider wellbeing support and education.
The programme will be piloted in facilities across the UK, and at home through a virtual community support app.
MSK conditions affect the muscles, joints, ligaments and nerves, and range from a knee injury to back pain and arthritis, making them the primary cause of disability globally and accounting for the third-largest area of NHS spending – around £5bn annually.
Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said: “The projections for NHS waiting lists show that things are going to get even worse over the coming years, but the potential within this project means we could start reducing that pressure significantly over the long-term.
“We have a golden opportunity to integrate the fitness and leisure sector into the healthcare system in every community, providing millions of people with access to expert support and incredible facilities to ease their pain through regular physical activity.
“We are delighted to be part of this leadership group, partnering with Good Boost, Orthopaedic Research UK, ESCAPE-pain and Arthritis Action on this incredibly exciting project, and we look forward to sharing our findings.”
David Vaux, Therapies Manager and Exercise Lead for Arthritis Action, said: “I am hugely excited about the potential impact that leisure centre teams can have in helping people living with arthritis to better self-manage their conditions.
“The team at Arthritis Action will be sharing specialist knowledge and techniques aimed at breaking down some of the barriers to taking part in an exercise that is commonly experienced by people with arthritis or long-term pain and mobility challenges.
“This project has the potential to provide a blueprint of charities and health organisations working with the leisure sector to proactively address the growing health and social care challenge posed by an inactive ageing population."