Local councils want doctors to prescribe outdoor exercise to patients in a bid to encourage physical activity and fight the rising swell of obesity across the country.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils, is calling for a similar model to the "green prescription" in New Zealand that gets people outdoors to be introduced in England and Wales.
The scheme has seen 80 percent of GPs in New Zealand issue green prescriptions to patients, which are forwarded to a patient support person who then encourages the patient to be more active through phone calls, face-to-face meetings or a support group.
A recent survey of patients given green prescriptions in the country found 72 percent noticed positive changes to their health, 67 percent improved their diet and 51 percent felt stronger and fitter, the LGA notes. It argues that, if GPs in England and Wales set moderate physical activity goals it would benefit patients who are obese or overweight.
Councils want to see the measures rolled out nationwide, on the back of findings that one in four patients would exercise more if advised to do so by a GP or nurse, and research published in the British Medical Journal that a green prescription can improve a patient's quality of life over 12 months and help people live longer, healthier lives.
"There are some instances where rather than prescribing a pill, advising on some type of moderate physical activity outdoors could be far more beneficial to the patient," said Cllr Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the LGA's Community Wellbeing Board. "This could be going on organised walks, conservation work with a local park group, or gardening at home".
"The green prescription model is something that could help to tackle major health conditions such as obesity and diabetes. There are already some good examples where this is being piloted in the UK, and it is something we should consider on a nationwide basis."
"Social prescribing schemes can certainly be beneficial to a patient's overall health and wellbeing - as some pilots have shown - but to be effective, there needs to be better integration between health and community services, so that GPs and our teams can signpost our patients most appropriately," said RCGP spokesperson Dr Steve Mowle.
"However, any decision to invest in social prescribing schemes, and roll them out more widely, must not be an alternative to investing in our general practice service," he added.