Steve Aspinall, Chairman of the British Association of Sport Rehabilitators and Trainers

Steve Aspinall, Chairman of the British Association of Sport Rehabilitators and Trainers (BASRaT), explains why the accredited registers workforce has such a vital role to play in supporting the public's health.

We face some stark health inequalities in the UK, with a 20-year difference in life expectancy between our most and least deprived areas. We also have 6 out of 10 adults who are overweight or obese and can currently expect 96,000 tobacco related deaths each year.

Utilising the nearly 80,000 strong accredited registers (AR) workforce is not only a great idea that can change the health of our nation, it is also a pragmatic approach to a problem that has challenged our more traditional healthcare workforce for a number of years.

This resonates even more strongly with BASRaT-accredited Sport Rehabilitators who have been proponents of using physical activity and exercise as both prevention and medicine for a number of years.

Physical activity improves sleep, helps maintain a healthy weight, manages stress, improves the quality of life as well as reducing the chances of type 2 diabetes (-40%), cardiovascular disease (-35%), falls, depression and dementia (-30%), joint and back pain (-25%) in addition to reducing colon and breast cancer by up to 20% (1).

It makes perfect sense that the strong AR workforce should be in an ideal position to help improve public health; our practitioners spend a lot a time with patients, frequently up to an hour, and develop strong therapeutic relationships that lend themselves to a wider health assessment and interventions for both prevention and treatment.

RSPH's recent report, Untapped Resources: Accredited Registers in the Wider Workforce, identifies clear challenges that we need to overcome in order to utilise the extensive AR resources effectively. The majority of the wider medical professions are either still unaware of the wider AR workforce or don’t realise how much they can contribute to public health and reducing the burden of disease in modern society, although we can already see this changing and I hope with the advent of this report, we will see even more positive steps being taken.

One obvious barrier, especially for patients in more deprived areas, is the current lack of financial support when a patient wants to access AR practitioner services. This is clearly something that needs addressing in light of the financial benefits of keeping our population healthy for our health service and wider economy, and I am sure will be at the heart of future discussions with stakeholders.

To support this, members of the AR workforce need more authority to make appropriate direct NHS referrals, freeing up GP time that could be much better used elsewhere; this is something that Sport Rehabilitators already do to a large extent in private settings and it makes perfect sense to review the authority for making referrals in different settings.

Going hand in hand with this, is the local development of signposting information for AR practitioners so they have a directory of local healthy lifestyle services to enable appropriate referrals and making the most from every patient contact.    

From the perspective of BASRaT, healthy lifestyles are directly relevant to the reasons many patients see our registrants. Sport Rehabilitators are trained to support behaviour change, especially as it relates to making healthy lifestyle choices and using PA and exercise as interventions to combat the burden of disease in the 21st century.

We look forward to a more integrated and proactive healthcare workforce that fully utilises the registrants of the AR occupations, and a healthier UK!     

1. UK Chief Medical Officers Guidelines 2011