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Health feature: Dr Mike Brannan - Public Health England

On Thursday 4 April, we released a short film for healthcare professionals on supporting disabled people to be active. Created in partnership with Public Health England and supported by Sport England, the film introduces the urgent case for change so more disabled people can reap physical and mental health benefits of being active. Over the coming months, we will be featuring a series of health Q and A articles from key leaders in health and their calls for action for disabled people. Our first article comes from Dr Mike Brannan, National Lead for Physical Activity at Public Health England, and one of our  film contributors. Today, he highlights the valuable role played by healthcare professionals and explains how cross-sector collaboration is the key for change.

Dr Mike Brannan, National Lead for Physical Activity at Public Health England

How effective has the health sector been in promoting disabled people and people with long-term health conditions in being active? 

Physical activity isn’t just a health issue – it is a societal issue that impact individuals, families, communities and the country as a whole. Activity has been declining since the 1960s – both in the UK and across the world – because of social, cultural, environmental and economic changes.

There are inequalities for disabled people and people with long-term health conditions, who are twice as likely to be inactive than non-disabled people. This has consequences not only for health inequalities, but also for equal access to other benefits of physical activity such as social inclusion and quality of life.

This inequality is unfair and, to a large extent, avoidable. We continue to see unconscious exacerbation of these inequalities, when there is not an equal expectation that disabled people and people with long-term health conditions should want or be able to be active. We need to take an inclusive approach to how we think and act on physical activity.

The film from the Activity Alliance exemplifies how work is being undertaken to address this issue. The national Moving Healthcare Professionals programme led by PHE and Sport England and new resources such as the new UK Chief Medical Officers’ infographic on physical activity for disabled adults are helping to empower healthcare professionals to change the situation.

How do you see Activity Alliance supporting healthcare professionals?

Activity Alliance plays a critical role in raising awareness and supporting individuals, professionals and volunteers on the importance of physical activity for disabled people, and crucially, how we can take action to make a real difference. It is a trusted advocate, partner and information source.

Activity Alliance’s resources – particularly in how they are co-produced with disabled people and those that support them – are vital for informing what action needs to be taken, to provide appealing opportunities and better support so more disabled people and people with long-term conditions can be physically active.

What other resources are available for healthcare professionals? 

Our survey of 1,000 GPs showed four in five are not confident about their knowledge of the physical activity guidelines and it’s a similar issue in other professions. Over the last five years, we have seen significant progress to help healthcare professionals develop the knowledge, skills and understanding of how to incorporate the care of disabled people or people with long-term health conditions.

PHE and Sport England run the national Moving Healthcare Professionals programme, which is creating resources for healthcare professionals. This includes the Clinical Champions programme that has seen over 22,000 healthcare professionals receive peer-to-peer, face-to-face training and can be accessed by emailing physicalactivity@phe.gov.uk.

Our e-learning modules on including physical activity in treating people with long-term health conditions have been completed 120,000 times.

The Moving Medicine resource, developed with the Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine with around 300 healthcare professionals and health charities, is helping to make conversations about physical activity routine for common conditions.

PHE and the Royal Society for Public Health have produced the Everyday Interactions resource to embed physical activity into a Making Every Contact Count approach.

A number of health charities offer a range of fantastic resources for healthcare professionals and people with long-term health conditions, such as Macmillan Cancer Support, Versus Arthritis and the Royal Osteoporosis Society. The Richmond Group of Charities has also done work on understanding the attitudes of people with long-term conditions towards physical activity.

Professionals bodies such as the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists and Royal College of General Practitioners also offer support.

Looking five years into the future, what does success look like? 

We need to see change in all aspects of physical activity – a rise in the number of disabled people and people with long-term health conditions who are active, more opportunities and choice for participation, and increased prioritisation of inclusion in our approach.

We know the unique influence healthcare professionals have, with evidence suggesting 1 in 4 people would be more active if advised by them.

Through the work of the national Moving Healthcare Professionals programme and others, we are seeing changes in the awareness and knowledge of healthcare professionals, with the development of social prescribing another exciting opportunity. We are seeing healthcare professionals becoming empowered to embed physical activity into the care of disabled people and people with long-term health conditions, to improve their health and quality of life.

What can a healthcare professional do to help their disabled patients and patients with long-term health conditions? 

Firstly, think about yourself and what you need to gain the confidence to incorporate conversations and brief advice on physical activity into your patient interactions. There is a range of free, easy to access resources available such as training by Clinical Champions and e-learning.

Secondly, understand what opportunities are available, particularly locally. Your local Active Partnership or local authority will be able to advise. Activity Alliance resources are helpful to understand suitable activities for disabled people. Activity Alliance also offers an activity finder. You could also make links with local providers such as Walking for Health and Parkrun.

Lastly, start today – the majority of disabled people want to be more active, so they will be receptive. Remember, something is better than nothing, so encourage them to start small and build up gradually.

Activity Alliance’s health video is both a recognition of some of the great work underway and a ‘call to arms’ that there is more we can do together across the physical activity and health sectors. Working together, we can enable everybody to be active every day and benefit from the health and wellbeing and wider benefits physical activity brings.

If you are a healthcare professional looking for more information and guidance then please visit www.activityalliance.org.uk/health

Watch the full video below:

You can view the video here

Watch Dr Mike Brannan's social media clip below:

Watch Dr Mike Brannan's social media clip here.