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footballsNHS England has welcomed moves by football clubs to improve the nation’s health including cookery classes for bereaved men, exercise sessions for people with cancer and sport to help tackle mental ill health. A nation-wide day of action saw 72 football clubs from the English Football League put their full weight behind nationwide community health activities.

The NHS Long Term Plan commits to ramping-up personalised care, including placing 1,000 social prescribing link workers in GP surgeries, giving more time to help patients with issues that can have a knock-on effect on health, like loneliness or isolation, and connecting them to suitable local activities.
Social prescribing can offer alternative ways of treating people in their community, with one-in-five of GPs regularly referring patients to these schemes, as studies show 28% fewer GP consultations and 24% fewer A&E attendances where social prescribing ‘connector’ services are working well.

James Sanderson, director of personalised care for NHS England, said: “Tackling public health crises like obesity must be a team effort, so it’s encouraging to see the world of football using its influence to help improve our nation’s health. “The NHS Long Term Plan sets out measures to personalise care and support individuals and communities to prevent ill health, with GPs and patients able to consider schemes like these which can help people live fitter, healthier lives while also helping to take pressure off NHS services.”

To celebrate English Football League (EFL) Day of Action, Sheffield United held a walking football session as part of the ‘Fans Fighting Cancer’ project, delivered jointly with Macmillan, which it runs weekly for people affected by cancer. Physical activity helps people tackle the disease and live with it. Participants achieve what they feel they are able and walking football is a big success. At Portsmouth FC, their Men’s Kitchen will put on a taster of a six week home cooking course for men who have never cooked or those recently divorced or bereaved and who may be experiencing mental ill health or isolation.

John Kidder, who lives with cancer that is incurable but treatable, has been taking part in the Sheffield United walking football group for a while. He said: “My cancer diagnosis was out of the blue and well advanced, the outlook was bleak to say the least. I really enjoy playing and trying to get a grip of the game and being part of a team, if only my legs looked better in the shorts! “The support from the club has been outstanding. The kind and encouraging approach works well and is well appreciated. Their involvement with the community should be applauded.”

Bristol Rovers will run one of its social football groups to help people recovering from mental ill health, including depression, which it kicked off by partnering with the NHS. Up and down the country, managers and players from the EFL’s 72 Clubs will be attending events to pay special visits to participants and turn their hand to some of the activities taking place. EFL Chief Executive, Shaun Harvey said: “The EFL Day of Action brings together all 72 Clubs to highlight the special role they play in enhancing the lives of millions of people around the country. “Improving people’s health is one of our main aims and we’re delighted so many players are turning up to give help and hope to the fans who have supported them.”

The EFL aims to improve lives in a range of areas including inclusion, homelessness, education and health. This is just a small sample of some of the work due to take place during the EFL’s Day of Action by EFL Club Community Organisations – the largest network of sporting charities in the UK. The EFL and its Clubs invested £80m in communities in 2018.

In December, head of NHS England Simon Stevens backed an EFL scheme that lets overweight football fans train at their club’s stadium, encouraging them to get fit and live a healthier, more active life.

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