Putting heart back into the community

A rare piece of co-operation in the public sector is having a healthy effect on patients, hospital budgets - and jobs.

Birkenhead's most deprived area, the Citylands, is becoming healthier thanks to a pioneering initiative by a group of public sector organisations working with Liverpool University.

People are taking more exercise, stopping smoking, cutting back on drink and changing their diet. The local health authority looks set to save money with fewer drugs prescribed and less patients re-admitted to hospital. Heart attack victims are getting back to work more quickly, and the demand for fitness classes is creating jobs for instructors.

The Life Project in Wirral, a pilot scheme bringing together several statutory agencies to promote healthy lifestyles and exercise, could become a model across the country. Liverpool University, Wirral council, Merseyside Health Authority and general practitioners have been working together for two years, funded by the local City Challenge scheme, persuading people to take more exercise to prevent illness and to get well more quickly. GPs are writing out "exercise prescriptions" for patients to take to fitness classes to get them into better shape.

Sue Drew, the Life Project leader, says: "If we can promote self-esteem, people will take steps to improve their lifestyle. Then they may go on to give up smoking. Local people take leadership roles, and we train them to become exercise leaders, self-employed or working for the council's leisure services, or for local companies, or for our community programme."

Each patient receives six weeks' free use of the council's leisure centres, when their progress is reviewed. Then they are given a further programme for the next six weeks, which the patient pays for. Evaluation of a random group of patients found them to be regularly going for exercise, and on reduced levels of medication.

Dr Mohammad Salahuddin, a local GP, says the project is having a beneficial effect on patients, especially in improving cardiac rehabilitation. "Before, when patients came out of hospital they were getting different advice from different people, including specialists and GPs. Now they have the confidence that someone is looking after them. People are going back to work much earlier now, I think. Quite a few people come back to me asking to reduce their drugs, and there are fewer re-admissions to hospital. The situation has changed drastically."

The role of Liverpool University has been central. The idea arose from discussions between the university and Wirral council, the university recommended which equipment should be used, undertook project evaluation, and is represented on the management committee.

Evaluation has shown that the project is working. "There is little doubt that it saves money," says David Brodie, professor of movement science and physical education at Liverpool's Faculty of Science. "At the moment the main evidence is with client satisfaction. Once people start on the programme they become very enthusiastic and keep coming. We are getting clear evidence of improved physiological capacity, and our psychological tests show improvements.

"The referral scheme is showing a reduction in drugs use, which is saving the health authority money. The test is whether there is a reduction in heart disease, but we won't see that for 10 years. So we have to look at known risk factors, like cholesterol levels, fitness and smoking, and we can see there are changes which should be advantageous."

Mandie Winstanley has also found her life changed for the better. She had been working as a supermarket cashier when she saw advertisements offering RSA and NVQ standard training, run by the Life Project, for fitness instructors. Now she is employed by the project and a local health club, running classes for elderly people and children. "It's absolutely fabulous," she says. "It got me a full-time job. More people are starting to be aware of health and exercise."

The success of the Life Project is just beginning to become more widely known. In April, it won a national award from the Department of Health. Local authorities are asking for details, and in September it is hosting a national conference jointly with the Association of Metropolitan Authorities encouraging councils to copy it.

Ian McNichol, assistant secretary for leisure at the AMA, believes that the project has established a style of working that should be copied widely. "It is directed into a clearly defined area with clear objectives, and is properly resourced. It is extremely important for the future promotion of healthy lifestyles. It is the most important single project in the country."

Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Executive / Marketing Assistant

£18 - 23k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Executive / Assistant is n...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Trainee

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider to the fa...

Ashdown Group: Graduate IT Analyst - Global ERP Implementation - London

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful & reputable global business is l...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'