Scheme helping 75,000 Leeds residents ‘get active’ through free gym access could be axed

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A scheme helping thousands of Leeds residents get active is under threat, after an urgent meeting was called to discuss massive cuts to public health.

At an “extraordinary meeting” of the Leeds Health and Wellbeing Board today, NHS, third sector and Leeds City Council bosses discussed a need to make £3.9million of public health savings in 2016/17 due to Government cuts.

Coun Lisa Mulherin, chair of the Leeds Health and Wellbeing Board. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Coun Lisa Mulherin, chair of the Leeds Health and Wellbeing Board. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

A further £1.1m central funding reduction will see the council forced to save £5m on public health schemes during 2017/18 compared to this year – putting at risk services such as smoking cessation, oral health work and weight management.

The Leeds Let’s Get Active (LLGA) initiative, to which 75,000 residents are registered, aims to give inactive residents free access to sports facilities. It is among those possibly facing the chop as its funding is due to run out in late March.

Mark Allman, head of sport and active lifestyles at the council, said: “The impact of stopping the scheme would be very difficult to manage and it would stop those taking part from doing that, particularly for those that can’t afford it otherwise.”

Leeds Beckett University has been conducting research on how LLGA is helping people get active. Of the 8,500 people new sign-ups since April 2015, it found only 206 reported having a healthy lifestyle.

Mr Allman said nearly half of all LLGA sign-ups admit to exercising less than 30 minutes per week and the scheme is succeeding in helping them become active.

She said: “It’s quite frankly a disgrace and the fact that it is done at the same time as the rhetoric about the importance of prevention and the Five Year Forward View puts us in a very difficult position.”

The future of the LLGA is being discussed in the context of what board chair Coun Lisa Mulherin said was a 10 per cent cut to public health budgets in Leeds from April this year to 2018.

Board member Coun Stewart Golton said: “We should not be having this level of cut to the NHS. Just because it’s within the control of the council doesn’t mean it should be open season for the chancellor.”

Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust chief executive Thea Stein described it as “a cut to core NHS services underneath the radar” and expressed that the scale of the cuts will mean large contracts like that for health visiting will have to be among those scrutinised for savings.

NHS bosses expressed that they would consider using funds from their own budgets to keep LLGA running on an interim basis before the board agreed to pass the issue on to the Integrated Commissioning Executive (ICE).

The scheme will be reviewed before health bosses consider funding it until the summer when more evidence on its success is pulled together.

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