New NHS incentive offers cycling to improve public health

Cycling on prescription from NHS Wales in a bid to improve public health

Four commuters cycling along residential street

GPs from two practices in Wales will be able to assign up to six months of free bike rental to patients as part of a pilot intended to improve health and awareness of the physical and mental benefits of exercise.

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The scheme is being tested in Cardiff using the city’s nextbike bike sharing system, allowing bikes to be picked up from any of around 60 stations across the city and used for free. nextbike is a German-founded firm in operation since 2004, with its bike sharing setups now in a number of countries and tens of thousands of bikes in use worldwide.

Through the NHS Wales programme, individuals with a prescription will be able to borrow bikes for free from Cardiff’s bike sharing scheme for 30 minutes, with no limit to the number of times they can take a bike over the prescribed period. (Normally, nextbike subscribers pay £10 per month to use the bike share, subsequently with 30 minutes’ use free and a total 24-hour maximum charge of £5.)

If the approach proves successful we’ll look at making it more widely available across the city

The idea is that patients will be more inclined to take a bike than to use a car, or other motorised transport, to get around Cardiff, not only opening their eyes to the health benefits of regular exercise but also helping to reduce emissions in the city.

Dr Tom Porter, Consultant in Public Health Medicine with Cardiff and Vale University Health Board and Public Health Wales, commented: “It’s recommended that adults are active for at least 150 minutes every week, but many people feel that 150 minutes is simply too difficult to fit into their busy schedules. Cycling is not only fun but can also fit into your regular routine, going to work, visiting friends, or nipping to the shops, so you don’t even notice you’re racking up the minutes.

“For the first phase of the pilot we want to make sure the scheme works as intended, and is easy to use for patients and their health professionals, so we’ll be seeking feedback from participants. If the approach proves successful we’ll look at making it more widely available across the city.

“Not only can cycling work to reduce your risk of death from heart disease by 52 percent, but it’s also a great way to get around the city without using your car, making it good for both you and the environment around you, and helping to keep the air clean for everyone while reducing carbon emissions.”

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Cardiff’s free bike share prescriptions will only be available from Lansdowne Surgery and Fairweather Health Centre to begin with, but these early trials will be used to collect feedback from patients with a view to later setting up the system citywide. With any luck it, something similar will be replicated across the UK in the future