The UK’s first open access database for exercise referral schemes has reached 40,000 records nationwide, ukactive and ReferAll revealed (28 May) as the latest data for the sector is published.
The National ReferAll Database (NRD), which records outcome data for patients participating in the schemes, has been developed by ukactive and exercise referral software specialists ReferAll, in conjunction with the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine (NCSEM) in Sheffield, which has its research hub at the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre (AWRC).
Its latest data show that since launching in 2019, the NRD has grown to represent 40,000 unique persons who have been referred to one of 123 exercise referral schemes across the UK, between 2012 and 2021.
The sample has been taken from more than 600,000 exercise referral scheme records captured within ReferAll’s database.
To date, data available around exercise referral schemes has not been able to provide conclusive evidence of their effectiveness, due to its variability and the data representing only a small proportion of schemes.
By making the database an open resource and improving the quality of data captured, ukactive, ReferAll and the NCSEM in Sheffield have created a valuable resource for the wider research community, policy makers and health practitioners.
As it operates within the Open Science Framework – the movement for transparency and accessibility in research – it is hoped the database will grow to incorporate new pathways and schemes outside of the traditional concept of exercise referral schemes, such as weight management services and COVID recovery programmes.
Dr Matthew Wade, Head of Research and Development at ukactive, said: “We are delighted to share the very latest data from the National ReferAll Database.
We believe the NRD holds the key to unlocking best practice and driving continuous improvement. This database is integral for the success of exercise referral schemes in the future, ultimately providing the guiding evidence for the improvement of schemes so that we can increase the efficacy and consistency of our services.
“We need those in our sector delivering exercise referral schemes to work with us to maximise the potential of this database.
Anyone delivering exercise referral schemes or other physical-activity-related schemes should help us to build the evidence base and learn more about what works best by capturing data and feeding it into the database.”
Stuart Stokes, Managing Director at ReferAll, said: “This is a breakthrough moment; the NRD will ensure referral schemes can reach their full potential by facilitating a better understanding of exercise referral schemes and other physical-activity-related social prescribing pathways.
“It allows us to deepen our understanding of what makes schemes effective and so inform public health policy and practice. I genuinely believe this could change the way ‘exercise’ and ‘medicine’ interact. What could be more important than that?”
The founding partners have ambitions to continually update the NRD with additional data, according to Dr James Steele, Associate Professor of Sports and Exercise Science at Southampton Solent University and former Principal Investigator at ukactive’s Research Institute.
Dr James Steele said: “It’s been incredibly gratifying to see the hard work over many years from all involved in this mammoth project come to fruition.
The NRD represents a progressive step forward for the sector by making this data openly available to the wider research community.
“Certainly I, and colleagues here at Solent University, will be looking to utilise the data for future research and we encourage others to tap into the resource. But this is just the next step in our ambitious plans for this work.
“We want to grow the database from where it currently is and to see more schemes signing up to include their data.
We also want to work to develop core outcome datasets that are linked to meaningful outcomes and raise the quality and standardisation of data across this area.
“As the learnings of the database are incorporated into practice and policies, and as data is fed back into the database, this will facilitate continued evaluation to support our developing understanding of exercise referral schemes.”
Prof Robert Copeland, Director of the NCSEM in Sheffield and AWRC, said: “Exercise referral schemes have long been part of the physical activity, health and care landscape in the UK.
“Qualitative data with users and providers underlines their importance as part of the health promotion system in terms of individual level benefit but to date research exploring a population effect has been undermined by low quality data, and inconsistency in what is measured to assess benefit.
“The NRD changes this and provides the platform upon which researchers and policy makers can explore the population benefit of exercise referral schemes with greater precision.”