Abbeycroft Leisure’s Brandon Leisure Centre has become the second site in Suffolk to be awarded the new county-wide exercise referral quality standard for their work with patients with long term conditions referred to them by local GPs and health professionals.

The new quality standard has been developed by Suffolk County Council Public Health, and county wide partners, for exercise referral schemes (ERS) operating within the county. Suffolk is the first authority in the country to develop a county-wide quality standard of this kind.

Exercise referral schemes enable GPs and health professionals to refer patients with long-term health conditions to a fitness programme based within the community, to increase their physical activity levels as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Research by Suffolk County Council’s Public Health team found that current exercise referral schemes were not widely used in Suffolk by referrers. Reasons given for this were a lack of awareness among GPs of referral schemes, variations in referral protocols and a general lack of understanding whether schemes are operating in line with National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines.

The new quality standard for exercise referral in Suffolk has been developed with input from operators, GPs and health professionals, alongside QUEST, the Sport England recommended continuous improvement tool for leisure facilities, to address these issues.

Abbeycroft Leisure’s chief executive, Warren Smyth, said:

“Naturally, we are thrilled that we have achieved another quality standard for our Exercise on Referral scheme, this time at our Brandon Leisure Centre.

“The team has worked particularly hard to develop the scheme with clinicians and this is a welcome recognition for their efforts.

“The standard is extremely important to ensure that GPs, physiotherapists and other medical practitioners can feel confident that they are referring patients into a scheme that is safe and effective.

“Our aspiration is to achieve this quality standard at all our facilities operating an exercise on referral scheme.”

Cllr James Reeder, Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet Member for Health, said:

“This scheme is important in supporting people to be active and another step on our journey to become the most active county in England. We know that physical activity has significant benefits for health, both physical and mental, and can help to prevent and manage over 20 chronic conditions and diseases, including some cancers, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and depression.

“We want to highlight and showcase best practice across the county so GPs and healthcare professionals feel confident to refer patients in to exercise programmes, whilst also raising the profile of the excellent schemes that are available within the county.”

Cllr Jo Rayner, Cabinet member for Leisure and Culture and West Suffolk Council, said:

“GPs and patients need assurance that fitness referrals are going to be a positive experience and will make a real difference. Healthy families and communities are a priority for West Suffolk Council, and I am very pleased that this accreditation scheme is available to Brandon residents in the leisure centre the council provides.”

Dr Chris Rufford, Physical Activity Champion, Public Health England, said:

“It is very reassuring for health care professionals to know that the exercise referral schemes that they are sending their under-active patients with chronic disease to are of an accredited standard and are able to supervise a structured exercise programme in a safe environment according to National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines.”

To be accredited with the new standard, an ERS will be recognised via an independent quality assessment against a set of criteria developed by the Suffolk Exercise Referral Quality Standard and schemes will be monitored on a regular basis as part of this process. Schemes can apply for accreditation via the QUEST Accreditation scheme at https://questnbs.org/.