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Musculoskeletal health hub pilot expands to 100 sites as MSK cost to UK hits £5bn a year

The second phase of the UK’s MSK (musculoskeletal) health hub pilot will see the service rolled out to an additional 85 swimming pools and leisure centres this month.

The scheme – a collaboration between UK Active, Good Boost, Orthopaedic Research UK, Escape Pain and Arthritis Action – launched last year across 15 sites to support individuals suffering from musculoskeletal health problems. As well as a presence in physical locations, it also provides users with access to a tablet and app for customised guidance and at-home support.

There are around 20m people in the UK with musculoskeletal-related health problems, which affect bones, joints, muscles and the spine. The government categorises musculoskeletal conditions into three groups: inflammatory (such as rheumatoid arthritis); musculoskeletal pain (for example, osteoarthritis and back pain); and osteoporosis and fragility fractures.

“The MSK hubs programme demonstrates what great partnership working can achieve: a replicable, rapid deployment package of training, technology and ongoing support,” said Ben Wilkins, CEO of GoodBoost, a tech-forward social enterprise that provides aqua- and land-based exercise programmes to MSK sufferers. “This is a great opportunity to transform any leisure venue, gym or swimming pool into a hub for health and wellbeing, delivering a triple bottom line: greater local health capacity that supports the NHS, increased footfall to leisure facilities and improved MSK health outcomes for local citizens."

“Our primary purpose is to use our funding to encourage breakthrough research and education programmes in bone, joint and muscle wellbeing, and thereby reduce the burden of poor musculoskeletal health on individuals, workplaces and our health system,” said Arash Angadji, CEO of Orthopaedic Research UK and Escape Pain. “We’re providing a trailblazing, evidence-based, group therapy programme in the UK, which has been proven by NHS England to transform the lives of people suffering from poor musculoskeletal health, and reduce both costs to the NHS and musculoskeletal waiting lists.”

Shantel Irwin, CEO of Arthritis Action believes that the project has the “potential to deliver the blueprint for leisure centres” to become hubs for self-management resources for those with arthritis and mobility issues.

The NHS reports that over 30 million working days are lost in the UK each year due to MSK conditions. They account for up to 30 per cent of GP consultations in England and cost the NHS around £5bn annually.

The MSK health hubs programme is the latest example of the health value provided by the UK’s swimming pools, gyms and leisure centres – some of which are facing closure due to rising energy costs.

In his first speech as UK Active chair last month, Mike Farrar said the physical activity sector must be “at the heart” of the NHS. Making rehabilitation routinely part of the pathway for stroke, cancer, and musculoskeletal conditions, and providing musculoskeletal support services as an alternative to surgery in care pathways are two of the ways he believes the physical activity sector can support the health service.

“Millions of people are living in pain with musculoskeletal conditions that cause major disruption to their lives,” said Farrar. “The fitness and leisure sector can help reduce the burden on our NHS, social care, and the economy by providing a national activity therapy service, keeping patients out of hospitals and surgeries by encouraging them to use an MSK programme at their local pool, gym or leisure centre.”

UK Active estimates that in the last 12 months at least 350 leisure centres, pools and gyms in the UK either made changes to their services or closed temporarily or permanently in response to energy costs.

A coalition of organisations and leaders in the leisure industry is lobbying the government for additional support from the Energy Bills Discount Scheme, which does not classify swimming pools as energy intensive.

The pilot expansion comes at the same time NHS England and the government announced a Major Conditions Strategy – which should support the case for keeping swimming pools and leisure centres open. The initiative is aimed at tackling conditions such as MSK disorders, mental health problems, dementia, chronic respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases (including stroke and diabetes) and cancer.


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