Should GPs prescribe countryside walks to save NHS money?

As reported by Kent Online, a Kent County Council meeting saw councillors and GPs discuss the pros and cons of prescribing countryside walks to patients

Councillor Matthew Balfour has claimed, at a meeting of Kent County Council’s public health committee, that GPs should prescribe countryside walks in order to save the NHS money – while GPs responded that treating the patient should remain the priority.

Balfour believes that going outside could do more for patient health than “a handful of pills”.

GPs responded that they cannot be expected to save money because the health service is not adequately funded by the government.

“The Japanese do it and have special walks that they can prescribe,” Balfour said. “Why can’t we do that? Why shouldn’t we be doing that?”

Another councillor, Geoff Lymer, agreed. He said: “We should take a leaf out of the books in Shepway, where a lot of the Nepalese – former Gurkhas – see their families walking miles.

“You would see them five miles plus away from Folkestone and they don’t seem to have the mental health problems that some of the indigenous do.”

KCC’s deputy director of public health, Dr Allison Duggal, reassured councillors that her department is on the case.

She said: “This is something we are looking at as part of the local care and multidisciplinary teams and also the work we are doing about making every contact count trying to help people with physical activity.

“There’s a lot of evidence around being outside, being in green spaces and so absolutely we are going to try and promote that.”

Dr Zishan Syed, a partner at The Mote Medical Practice in Maidstone, added that this form of prescription is not “necessarily needed”.

He said: “A past BMJ study concerning social prescribing advised that ‘current evidence fails to provide sufficient detail to judge either success or value for money’.

“It would therefore be unreasonable to expect GPs to support any non evidence based practice such as social prescribing.”

He added that the role of the GP is to treat the patient, not to worry about NHS money.

He said: “GPs should not be expected to save money due to the government not funding the NHS adequately.

“Politicans would do well to support frontline GPs rather than scapegoating them for systemic failings beyond GP control.”

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