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."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Data Analyst - Essex - £25,000

£23500 - £25000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Data analyst/Sys...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Account Manager

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Account Manager is r...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Manager / Sales Executive

£18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Account Man...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste