Published 23 Aug 2022

Walking and cycling to improve mental and physical health is to be offered by GPs in Suffolk as part of a nationwide trial.

The county is one of just 11 areas in England to take part in the £12.7 million scheme announced by the government.

The pilots, part of the government’s Gear Change plan published in 2020, aim to evaluate the impact of physical activity through cycling and walking on a person’s health, such as reduced GP appointments and reliance on medication.

The scheme in Suffolk will receive £1.5 million and will focus on Ipswich and Lowestoft.

The funding will go towards several pilot projects including adult cycle training, free bike loans and walking groups.

Other schemes include all-ability cycling taster days where people who may not have cycled before can try to in a friendly environment, or walking and cycling mental health groups where people can connect with their communities as they get active.

Individuals assessed as being suitable to take part in the scheme will be provided with:

  • A bicycle/e-bike or e-cargo bike to be used as a mobility aid (with safety equipment, adaptive cycles/trailers, and secure storage),
  • 1-1 support with learn to ride/cycle confidence/Bikeability training,
  • Basic bike maintenance
  • Journey planning using the local cycle network
  • ‘Buddy riding’ to destinations such as workplaces, schools, or shops to build confidence for everyday journeys.

Stakeholders led by the Public Health and Transport Strategy teams at Suffolk County Council include the primary care networks, Healthwatch Suffolk, Community Action Suffolk, Active Suffolk, and the University of Suffolk Integrated Care Academy.

The county’s former NHS clinical commissioning groups - now Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care System and Norfolk and Waveney Integrated Care System – are also stakeholders.

Councillor Alexander Nicoll, Suffolk County Council Deputy Cabinet Member for Transport Strategy, said:

“I am delighted Suffolk is to take part in this innovative scheme.

“That we have been selected is a tribute to the hard work and team effort of all the stakeholders and I look forward to seeing the scheme progress.”

Stuart Keeble, Director of Public Health for Suffolk, said:

“The health and wellbeing benefits of walking and cycling are well recognised, and this scheme will allow us to use them as a non-clinical way of helping people.

“By supporting people to move more we can help them to improve their physical and mental health and wellbeing, improve the environment and help relieve the burden on the NHS.”

The pilots will be delivered between 2022 and 2025 with on-going monitoring and evaluation to support continued learning.

The project brings together a range of government departments and agencies including:

  • NHS England
  • Office for Health Improvement and Disparities
  • Sport England
  • National Academy for Social Prescribing
  • Defra
  • Department for Health and Social Care

National Active Travel Commissioner, Chris Boardman, said:

"As a nation we need healthier, cheaper, and more pleasant ways to get around for everyday trips.

“Active Travel England’s mission is to ensure millions of people nationwide can do just that – so it is easier to leave the car at home and to enjoy the benefits that come with it.

“Moving more will lead to a healthier nation, a reduced burden on the NHS, less cancer, heart disease and diabetes, as well as huge cost savings.

“This trial aims to build on existing evidence to show how bringing transport, active travel and health together can make a positive impact on communities across England."