Health care professional pilot


Our health care professional pilot (2017) aimed to test a protocol for a physical activity care pathway which signposted relevant patients to their local scheme.

The protocol was introduced at seven sites in England - in each site a GP surgery or health centre agreed to test the protocol and work alongside their local scheme.

The pilot aimed to:

  • Develop best practice guidance and a protocol for primary care professionals to identify inactive patients, provide advice on increasing activity levels and signpost to a local Walking for Health schemes
  • Develop guidance for Walking for Health schemes on effective working with primary care
  • To produce and test new marketing materials to support signposting
  • To increase in the number inactive people join Walking for Health schemes

Some early learning from the pilot can be found here - this will inform the continued development of the pilot and potential future iterations, and may support Walking for Health schemes looking to engage health care professionals more generally. We also hope that some of the information presented here is of interest to health care professionals and health sector staff who may be interested in working with their local Walking for Health scheme, and help them to understand the challenges facing schemes in engaging with the sector.



Walking for Health schemes have often expressed their intention and willingness to engage with health professionals in a meaningful way.

Some schemes have formal and well established links with health professionals. For instance those involved in local social prescribing arrangements or other partnership work directly with health sector organisations or others, for instance from the voluntary sector.

In a 2016 survey of over 400 schemes, 75% said that they have a ‘formal’ link with health professionals.

This figure is not reflected by the number of individuals who are referred to Walking for Health by a health professional, which in 2015/16 was 10.7%. However this is an increase on 7.8% the previous year.

Anecdotally we are aware that schemes don’t feel that they have the capability to adequately engage health professionals, or have attempted to do so but with limited success (for instance see the 2013 Every Step Counts report).

One of the key benefits of Walking for Health schemes engaging with health professionals is that participants sign posted from a health care setting are more likely to be from a specific target group: inactive people, people living with a long term health condition or disability including cancer, from BME groups, and from the most deprived areas who would benefit from becoming more active. Engaging with health care professionals can help schemes to reach these nationally identified priority groups, as well as addressing other local priorities.

Key facts


25.6% of people in England do fewer than 30 minutes a week of moderate intensity activity. The Chief Medical Officer’s (CMO) guidelines recommend that adults should be physically active for 150 minutes a week” (7) – Sport England, Active Lives Survey, 2017

For adults – achieving 150 minutes of at least moderate intensity physical activity a week helps prevent and manage over 20 chronic conditions including coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, mental health problems and musculoskeletal conditions (8)
UK CMOs’ report: Start Active, Stay Active, 2011

Health professionals

“Health professionals are well placed to advise patients to become active because they are trusted and patients are likely to follow their advice.  Patients want to know that physical activity will be safe and suitable for them, and they have permission to be active.” 
What motivates people with cancer to get active- understanding the motivations and barriers to physical activity in people living with cancer. Macmillan, 2016 (9)

One in four patients would be more active if advised by a GP or nurse and very brief advice on physical activity has been shown to effective at supporting people to become more active”
Everybody active every day - An evidence-based approach to physical activity.(10)

Walking for Health

In 2015/16, 415 health walk schemes operated across the country, running 1,800 weekly walks which are enjoyed by 20,200 people each week. 67,000 people joined at least one walk in 2015/16, contributing to one million attendances throughout the year (11).

As a low impact, moderate intensity physical activity, Walking for Health is well placed to support inactive people and people with long term health conditions. A programme backed by Macmillan Cancer Support and Ramblers, with individual schemes utilising trained volunteer walk leaders and accredited by the national programme. Walking for Health can be a safe and trusted intervention that health professionals should be able to confidently signpost patients to.