Tonbridge parkrunner takes the lead for revolution in healthcare
A REGULAR in the town’s parkrun is the poster boy for a new NHS campaign that could see thousands of patients being given ‘prescriptions’ for outdoor physical activity instead of medication.
The groundbreaking initiative, known as ‘social prescribing’, coincides with the health service’s 70th birthday.
Tonbridge’s parkrun, a free 5km event held on Saturday mornings, was chosen to launch the anniversary celebrations.
Former Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes led hundreds of runners dressed as doctors, nurses and patients.
Now Scott Wishart has been selected as the case study for the Royal College of General Practitioners’ groundbreaking approach to healthcare.
GP surgeries are being asked to become certified ‘parkrun practices’ and encourage their patients to go along.
In 2017, 1.11billion prescriptions were dispensed in the UK, costing £9.17billion.
The parkrun idea aims to stop people with long-term health problems from becoming dependent on medicine while also saving vast amounts of money for the embattled NHS.
There are 535 parkruns in Britain and the event has been identified by GPs because it is non-competitive: participants can walk or simply join in as volunteers to help with the organisation.
As well as getting fit, parkruns have become well known for their supportive, welcoming community.
After research conducted by parkrun UK in 2017, GPs have also noted the positive impact that volunteering can have on health and wellbeing.
Mr Wishart, a 46-year-old photographer who lives in Wrotham Heath, went to see his doctor in 2011 because he was suffering from chest pains.
“The ECG [electrocardiogram] came back with nothing,” he said. “So I went to Maidstone Hospital and I was hooked up to all the other machines.
“It turned out that it was nothing serious. But my cholesterol levels and blood pressure were high. The doctors told me to change my lifestyle or in six months they would have to put me on statins.”
“They suggested I take up running, and within a year I did the London Marathon. It’s been a godsend, a lifesaver – and now all my levels are good.
“The bottom line is, I’d have had to be on medication for the rest of my life if I hadn’t turned it around because of my family history.
“There is heart disease on both sides of the family going back generations.”
With obesity and diabetes taking up a large proportion of the NHS’s budget, the scheme should also help patients to tackle these debilitating conditions, both of which are caused by a lack of physical activity as well as poor diets.
Other areas that dominate the NHS’s resources should benefit too. Exercise has been proved to lower the risk of people suffering from cancer and heart disease and can help aching joints.
The sense of wellbeing could also bring down the quantity of drugs used to help mental health.
Dr Bob Bowes, a GP at Kingswood Surgery in Tunbridge Wells and Chair of the West Kent Clinical Commissioning Group, supports the project.
He says: “parkrun is a great way for people to become more active as it is a free and fun community event and gives them the opportunity to exercise alongside people of all abilities in a friendly environment.
“Exercise provides so many fantastic health benefits. Not only does it help people to maintain a healthy weight but it can also help to reduce the risk of developing conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, to name but a few, as well as help to reduce muscle and joint problems.
“Becoming more active can also help improve mental wellbeing, particularly when combined with the social activity that group activities such as parkrun offer.
He adds: “In some cases, these benefits could mean that people who regularly exercise no longer need to take some prescribed medicines including those to treat Type 2 Diabetes – as diet and exercise can reverse the condition – pain management medicines and those to help mental health conditions.”
Mr Wishart badly dislocated his knee playing football when he was 15, and a teacher told him to avoid taking part in contact or impact sports.
But he believes that parkrun gave him back his confidence to move freely – and it can do the same for all-comers.
“I suffered from that for years, I was in agony,” he told the Times. “But since I started running I have not had one single issue with it.
“I’ve watched as people have improved incredibly and now they are cruising around the course.”
The support of others is important in providing a feeling of wellbeing. “That’s the beauty of it. Absolutely no one is bothered whether you’re walking or jogging.
“I always stay till the end to cheer the others on. It’s a community, a big social thing. It’s the best day of the week for me.”
“Everyone supports everyone else. Sometimes if you see someone is struggling a bit, you stop and walk with them and ask them if they’re alright.
Mr Wishart recognises the therapeutic value for the mind as well as the body. “Psychologically when you finish you feel really great.
“Everyone is in such a good place at the end. So mentally it helps a lot.
“I couldn’t find anything negative about parkrun – it’s an entirely positive experience.”
For more information about Tonbridge parkrun, visit www.parkrun.org.uk/tonbridge/
PICTURE: RUN FOR YOUR LIFE: Scott Wishart describes parkrun as ‘the best day of the week for me’