National Walking Month: Ensuring practices take the right steps

These boots are made for walking and that’s just what they’ll do…It’s National Walking Month and across the UK practices are supporting – and often forming – walking groups to help improve the health of their local population. Where the practice becomes involved, additional responsibilities are accepted. Rachel Birch, medicolegal adviser at Medical Protection, explains

Every year, May is celebrated as National Walking Month. Whatever their level of fitness, people are encouraged to dust off their trainers or walking boots and get out into the great outdoors. Some do this to raise money for charity; others to try to lose weight or improve their general level of fitness. Some will set themselves the target of walking 10,000 steps per day; others may opt for tackling a hill or coastal walk.

It’s well known that regular weight bearing cardiovascular exercise can improve bone health, reduce the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease and stroke, assist in the management of obesity and improve mental wellbeing. These are just some of the many benefits of exercise.

Recommended daily allowance

As such, clinicians regularly recommend exercise to their patients, especially those with co-morbidities such as heart disease or diabetes.

Some practices may go one step further and want to encourage and assist patients by setting up a regular patient walking group. Whilst the idea is an innovative one and may be popular with patients, it is important for practices to take steps to minimise any risk associated with this venture.

A token of health

Walking groups, and a practice’s involvement in one, may take many forms. There may be a local rambling group that have asked you to advertise their arrangements and contact details. It would seem reasonable to put up posters and advertise such a group on your practice website.

However, if practices are going to organise their own walking group, they must make the safety of patients their priority.

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Although practices may wish to advertise the group to patients, clinicians should not put pressure on patients to take part. If the walking group is recommended to individual patients, they should be reassured that their care won’t be any different if they don’t join in.

Sage advice

Clinicians should emphasise to patients that the walking is not considered a “treatment” as such, but that it may benefit their health.

Doctors and nurses should also consider, when recommending the group within the context of a clinical consultation, whether that patient is medically fit enough to take part. They should therefore consider the effect of the exercise on the patient, as well as familiarising themselves with possible routes and the walking speed.

Taking responsibility

Another aspect to think about is who will be leading the group? Will it be a clinician or perhaps a healthcare assistant or receptionist? Practices should ensure that the group leader carries a fully charged mobile phone in case of emergency. It is also essential to ensure they receive appropriate training regarding what to do if there is an emergency, such as a fractured limb or cardiac arrest. Whilst these situations are unlikely, it is better to be prepared for any eventuality.

The practice would also need to ensure that the walking group is covered by their public liability insurance, as this activity is unlikely to be included in medical defence organisation indemnity.

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