Abbeycroft Leisure’s Bury St Edmunds Leisure Centre has become the first facility in Suffolk to be awarded a new county-wide quality standard for their Exercise Referral Scheme, called Active Living. 

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 has found that current Exercise Referral Schemes are not widely used in Suffolk by referrers. Reasons given for this have been 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 leisure 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:

“I am delighted that the team at Bury St Edmunds Leisure Centre are the first centre to achieve the Suffolk Exercise on Referral Quality Standard. 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 GP’s, physiotherapists and other medical practitioners can feel confident that they are referring patients into a scheme that is safe and effective. The development of the quality standard is an extremely important milestone for all providers of Exercise on Referral Schemes.”

Cllr James Reeder, Cabinet Member for Health, said:

“I would like to congratulate Bury Leisure centre on being the first in Suffolk to achieve the new standard.

“We want to highlight and showcase best practice across the county so GP’s 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.’

“This scheme is important in supporting people to be active and another step on our journey to become the most active county in England.”

Cllr Jo Rayner, Cabinet member for Leisure and Culture at St Edmundsbury Borough Council, which owns Bury St Edmunds Leisure Centre said:

“Our council has made strong and healthy communities a priority and this success is a great example of our work with partners in preventing chronic health issues. This standard not only supports the individual in taking responsibility for their own health but the wider psychological and social benefits build better quality of life for those close to the person. I am delighted that Abbeycroft staff have achieved this standard.”

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 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 will be monitored on a regular basis as part of this process.

Schemes can apply for accreditation via the QUEST Accreditation scheme at