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19 Jan 2023

Mike Farrar says physical activity sector must ‘be at the heart’ of the health service
BY Frances Marcellin

Farrar said the health and fitness sector is angry and frustrated at the lack of government understanding

Farrar said the health and fitness sector is angry and frustrated at the lack of government understanding
photo: UK Active

In his first speech as chair at UK Active, Mike Farrar said the physical activity sector must be “at the heart” of the NHS, the care system, the education system and the workplace.

Speaking at UK Active’s inaugural Strategic Partner event – which brought together the health, fitness, local government, sport and wellbeing sectors in London on 17 January – Farrar said it was time for the physical activity sector to meet the needs of a bigger group of customers in UK society.

He described six ways the sector can improve the healthcare system:

  • making rehabilitation routinely part of the pathway for stroke, cancer, and musculoskeletal conditions;

  • offering musculoskeletal support services as an alternative to surgery in care pathways;

  • improving the effectiveness of drug therapies, including those offered alongside cancer treatments and motoneuron disease;

  • supporting eating disorder charities such as CAMHS to help children, young people and families;

  • scaling social prescribing, providing greater access for a wider range of health conditions; and

  • offering prehabilitation to everyone on a waiting list.


  • “For example, we’re pushing for every patient on a waiting list to be given access to physical activity support to help them avoid being unfit for treatment,” he said.

    Farrar brings 13 years of CEO experience in the NHS and remains a prominent thought leader and advisor to the NHS and the wider healthcare sector. He previously served as chair of the National Strategic Health Authority Chief Executive’s Group from 2002 to 2009; chief executive of the NHS Confederation from 2011 to 2013; vice and interim chair of Sport England between 2009 to 2012; and chair of Swim England from 2015 to 2020.

    During his speech he described the physical activity sector as “angry and frustrated” about the lack of financial support from the government following the Energy Bill Relief Scheme review last week.

    He outlined many areas where the sector can contribute to long-term growth and impact, which include: being an important platform for supporting the nation’s health and wellbeing; the ability, if suitably resourced and connected, to work hand in glove with the NHS and care providers to increase the value of every pound spent; offering rehabilitation and prehabilitation services; providing the nation’s workforce with the ability to work and the ability to return to work when they have been unwell (important for economic growth); connecting people; and employment, which offers opportunities for upward social mobility.

    The event also hosted a panel to discuss the greater role of the physical activity sector within the NHS. Participants included Ash James, director of practice and development at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy; Andy King, chair of GM Active; and Dr Sarah Price, chief officer for Population Health and Inequalities, and deputy chief executive of NHS Greater Manchester Integrated Care.

    Strengthening relationships with both government and the NHS are part of UK Active’s Vision 2030 strategy. There's an ever-growing body of evidence to support a stronger, long-term, outcome-driven cross-sector partnership between the physical activity sector and the healthcare system.

    The World Health Organization’s (WHO) report Global Status Report on Physical Activity 2022 shows that physical inactivity from 2020-2030 will result in 500m people developing a preventable non-communicable disease (NCD) at a cost of US$300bn.

    A report from Deloitte, Economic Health and Societal Wellbeing: Quantifying the Impact of the Global Health and Fitness Sector, which was released by The Global Health & Fitness Alliance (GHFA), in collaboration with IHRSA last year, reported that inactivity costs the UK healthcare system US$4.3bn a year. Figures showed that each year the UK loses 43.8m working days in absenteeism and presenteeism, costing the UK economy £13.6bn (US$16.5bn) annually. It calculated that every inactive worker costs the UK economy £1,420 (US$1,713) per year and so investing £1,420 (US$1,713) or a similar amount to help an inactive person to become active, results in payback in less than a year.





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