Menu Close

Trailblazing Pilot Sees Musculoskeletal Programme Expand To 100 Leisure Centres As ukactive Ramps Up Activity Therapy Service

woman in swimming pool watches tablet

ukactive’s pilot to transform leisure centres, swimming pools, and gyms into musculoskeletal (MSK) health hubs has been expanded to 100 sites across the UK, as the sector grows its services for the community.   

The pilot forms part of ukactive’s vision for leisure centres and gyms to play a greater role in supporting the NHS and social care services, which was outlined by Mike Farrar in his first speech as Chair of ukactive last week.

The programme behind the pilot has been designed and provided in collaboration between GoodBoost, ukactive, Orthopaedic Research UK, ESCAPE-pain, and Arthritis Action – demonstrating how the fitness and leisure sectors can work together to reduce the burden on the healthcare system. 

MSK conditions are the primary cause of disability among older adults, as more than 20 million people in the UK experience related problems, such as arthritis, chronic pain, or a knee replacement. 

Figures show 70% of the NHS budget is spent on such preventable conditions, while lost mobility also forces many people to enter care homes early.

Launched across 15 sites in 2022, the pilot will show how the programme could reduce pressure on acute healthcare services in primary and secondary settings, by managing conditions in community settings which are more easily accessible.

This month the pilot reaches its second phase, expanding to a further 85 swimming pools and leisure centres nationwide, as well as being delivered at home through an online app which provides community support virtually.

The MSK health hubs will provide exercise, rehabilitation and wellbeing support to help people maintain mobility, reduce pain, and improve the health of patients before and after surgery.  

As well as support from instructors, users are given computer tablets for individually tailored online guidance for their exercises, whether in the gym or the pool. 

In addition to preventing people from needing acute healthcare services, the programme reduces health inequalities by providing local, accessible, self-management options. 

The news comes as NHS England and the Government announce a Major Conditions Strategy, which represents a significant opportunity to improve the lives of millions of people by tackling major conditions that lead to years of ill health.

The MSK health hubs programme is the latest example of the health value provided by the nation’s swimming pools, gyms and leisure centres, as many face the threat of permanent closure due to rising energy costs and a lack of government support. 

Over the past year, at least 350 leisure centres, pools and gyms across the UK either closed temporarily, or permanently or made changes to their services in response to rising energy bills. 

A coalition of leading bodies is calling for further support from the Energy Bills Discount Scheme to save facilities from closure or the loss of services. 

Mike Farrar, Chair of ukactive, said: “Millions of people are living in pain with musculoskeletal conditions that cause major disruption to their lives. 

“The fitness and leisure sector can help reduce the burden on our NHS, social care, and the economy by providing a national activity therapy service, keeping patients out of hospitals and surgeries by encouraging them to use an MSK programme at their local pool, gym or leisure centre.

“Given the right conditions and support, we can scale this programme nationwide, which would have a transformative impact on our nation’s health, wellbeing, and the economy.

“This is also a fantastic opportunity for gyms and leisure centres to diversify their offer and reach many more people who can benefit from their expertise and services.” 

Ben Wilkins, CEO of GoodBoost, said: “The MSK hubs programme demonstrates what great partnership working can achieve: a replicable, rapid deployment package of training, technology and ongoing support.

“This is a great opportunity to transform any leisure venue, gym or swimming pool into a hub for health and wellbeing, delivering a triple bottom line: greater local health capacity that supports the NHS, increased footfall to leisure facilities and improved MSK health outcomes for local citizens.”

Shantel Irwin, CEO of Arthritis Action, said: “Arthritis Action is excited to move into phase two of this project aimed at helping more people with arthritis to access leisure centres around the UK. 

“This project has the potential to deliver the blueprint for leisure centres to become local community hubs of welcoming support and self-management resources for people with arthritis and other mobility issues.”  

Arash Angadji, CEO of Orthopaedic Research UK and ESCAPE-pain, said: “Our primary purpose is to use our funding to encourage breakthrough research and education programmes in bone, joint and muscle wellbeing, and thereby reduce the burden of poor MSK health on individuals, workplaces and our health system. 

“We’re providing a trailblazing, evidence-based, group therapy programme in the UK, which has been proven by NHS England to transform the lives of people suffering from poor MSK health, and reduce both costs to the NHS and MSK waiting lists.”