In the News

Social prescribing, cycling and what we might learn from the Netherlands

Liz Blamire

25th August 2022

Earlier this week the BBC reported on government-funded social prescribing pilots in a number of cities, aimed at improving health and reducing the burden on the NHS.

In the article - GPs to prescribe walking and cycling to improve health - it is stated that £12.7 million will be spent on the social prescribing pilots. Whilst GPs that the BBC spoke to agreed that walking and cycling for example, will improve both mental and physical health, they do not necessarily believe they have the time and capacity to both look after sick people and refer people to these new schemes.

Social prescribing is not a new concept - there are many health and social care workers, including GPs that are already successfully doing it. Check out the videos below.

So what might we learn from the Netherlands? Is social prescribing the only answer?

In the last week I have been on holiday in the Netherlands, a country well known for being cycling friendly. The Netherlands boasts an excellent cycling infrastructure. The cycle network’s total length is more than 35,000 kilometres (21,748 miles), equivalent to a quarter of the Netherlands’ entire 140,000 km (86,992 mile) road network. It is incredibly safe to cycle in the Netherlands, not only due to the network of cycle lanes and paths but also the priority and rights of way given to cyclists. This means that around 27% of all journeys made in the Netherlands, are by bicycle.But are the Dutch healthier?

According to this research - Dutch Cycling: Quantifying the Health and Related Economic Benefits - cycling does make the Dutch healthier.

'Cycling prevents about 6500 deaths each year, and Dutch people have half-a-year-longer life expectancy because of cycling. These health benefits correspond to more than 3% of the Dutch gross domestic product. Our study confirmed that investments in bicycle-promoting policies (e.g., improved bicycle infrastructure and facilities) will likely yield a high cost–benefit ratio in the long term.'

Utrecht, the fourth-largest and fastest-growing city in the Netherlands, where average daily bike trips number 125,000.

Cycling UK are one of a number of UK pressure groups that believe we need to improve our cycling infrastructure in the UK, to make cycling easier and safer, which will mean more people do it and we all reap the benefits. See the video for more on this.

Liz Blamire

Liz is a former NHS midwife, who has worked in community, birth centre and acute hospital settings. Liz is an SSAT Accredited Lead Practitioner, who has taught Health and Social Care in FE and secondary schools, where she was a successful HOD. Liz is an experienced senior examiner and author and is the current tutor2u subject lead for Health and Social Care.

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