What is a GP Referral Scheme?

How a GP Referral scheme works

Most doctors’ surgeries will be involved in the GP Exercise Referral scheme whereby funding exists to refer certain patients with common medical conditions such as obesity, hypertension or type 2 diabetes to a gym for a programme of exercise. Today we will look at the steps involved in such a scheme and how it can aid a patient with their health condition.

Who does a GP refer to?

Firstly, it is important to note that a GP will only refer patients to a gym that is contract holder for the scheme. This means that GPs are not able to refer to individual personal trainers and it will always be to a gym that holds a GP referral contract for that area. A GP will also only refer patients who they feel will benefit from exercise and have decided are eligible.

What happens on a GP referral scheme?

Once a patient is referred by their GP to a specific gym then the staff at that gym (providing they are appropriately qualified) will work with the patient to prescribe and deliver some suitable exercises to them. This will be undertaken in liaison with the patient’s GP, observing any restrictions and anything to take note of when planning the exercise session. The staff at the gym will also do screening of their own, talking to the patient and coming to an agreement as to what would be an appropriate programme of exercise. The programme needs to be both specific to their needs and something that is going to motivate them and be enjoyable. The staff will work with the patient to deliver the exercise to them. For example, this could be a gym session that has been designed for them, with the patient shown different pieces of equipment and machines, advised on what intensity to work at, and given the necessary advice to be able to use the equipment chosen. It is important however that a qualified GP referral staff member is always on hand to supervise and answer any questions or queries that the patient might have.

How long does a GP Referral go on for?

Typically, a GP referral membership is for a set time period. An evaluation would be undertaken at the end of the prescribed programme to assess how the patient got on and if the outcome is positive – which if they have followed the exercises faithfully, we would hope that it would be. If proving successful, the gym and the GP would strongly encourage the patient to continue with their exercise via a membership at that gym. The intention therefore is not just to complete a short-term programme, but to promote a lasting behaviour change and to get the patient to commit to an exercise programme long term.

How can I get involved as a fitness professional?

If you are interested in getting involved with GP referrals the qualification needed is Level 3 Supporting Clients with Long Term Conditions (this used to be called Exercise Referral). The prerequisite for gaining this qualification is a minimum of a Level 2 Fitness Instructor. Once a candidate has completed the Supporting Clients with Long Term Conditions Diploma, they would be eligible to work as part of a gyms GP referral scheme. For more information on this course please see the following webpage https://studyactive.co.uk/products/active-iq-level-3-online-diploma-in-supporting-clients-with-long-term-conditions

Editors notes - GP Referral Scheme 

We have seen that Exercise Referral programmes are becoming more and more popular. This may be due to awareness on how exercise referral can benefit chronic conditions such as asthma, arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis as well as mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Some who manage their long-term condition may wonder how to obtain a GP referral to a gym. The answer is to speak to their local GP practice to enquire about how to get a referral.

Obtaining a Doctor’s referral for the NHS exercise referral scheme is something that a GP would need to consider. The GP will be aware of the local referral programme and will consider the benefits before making a decision on a GP referral to a gym.

It should be noted that the NHS exercise referral scheme refers patients to a local gym (not to a freelance Personal Trainer!). The gym in question must be one that holds a contract for the NHS exercise referral scheme. These are usually the large, council run leisure centres who run such exercise referral schemes.

A Doctor’s referral does not mean a lifelong funded membership, more so a GP referral to a gym will see perhaps a partly subsidised membership for an initial period of time.  The exercise referral programme will then be reviewed and the exercise referral professional will report back to the GP who referred the individual.

Key points about Exercise Referral Schemes:

  • A GP referral to a gym does not mean a lifelong gym membership on the NHS
  • An exercise referral scheme is often staffed by exercise professionals who have completed a GP referral course leading to a qualification.
  • A GP exercise referral is made to a contract holding gym. There is no Personal Trainer NHS funding – the funding is for a partly subsidised gym membership in a contract holding gym
  • A GP referral gym membership is usually partly subsidised for an initial period
  • The exercise referral process sees a GP consider the benefits of a referral and then make a decision
  • A GP exercise referral programme is often involving a large council run leisure centre who often hold the GP referral contracts
  • Anyone wondering how to get a referral should contact their GP and ask about the NHS exercise referral scheme

Disclaimer: The decision to refer someone to an exercise referral scheme is a decision that the GP would make. This would only be done once the GP has appraised the individual and conducted various screening protocols. No patient should ever be referred to a GP Referral scheme without GP consent and thorough screening as well as consent from the individual.


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