DOCTORS have called for the NHS in Scotland to have specialist hospital consultants who can prescribe exercise to help conditions ranging from obesity to cancer.
Sport and exercise medicine was first recognised as a medical specialty around nine years ago in the UK. There are dedicated consultant NHS posts in the health service south of the Border, but they have yet to be introduced in Scotland.
The Faculty of Sports and Exercise Medicine, which is part of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, says introducing the posts in the NHS north of the Border could tackle inactivity and obesity in the nation, help patients recovering from illness and improve treatment of sporting injuries in the general population.
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Dr Michelle Jeffrey, a consultant in sports and exercise medicine who works in private hospitals in Scotland and is a member of the Faculty of Sports and Exercise Medicine, said one role of sports and exercise medicine would be to try to improve physical activity in the Scottish population which was currently "one of the worst in the world".
She said: "There is a also a huge amount of evidence now for the benefits of physical activity both in preventing and treating chronic disease. Diseases like coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancers can all be significantly reduced in incidence by people getting physically active. In terms of preventing them occurring, it can reduce them by 20-40%.
"It can also reduce the recurrence rate of (coronary) heart disease and breast cancer or bowel cancer by 50%. There are really quite significant impacts in terms of health if you can get people to be more physically active."
Jeffrey said exercise medicine consultants would have the specialist knowledge to "prescribe" exercise for patients who may have complicated conditions, as well as educating GPs on how to recommend exercise for patients.
She also argued it would provide a better service for musculoskeletal injuries - such as back pain, sprains and strains caused by strenuous activity - which could reduce costs for the NHS and reduce pressure on orthopaedic surgeons.
"At the moment there is not an awful lot of options for GPs who are not sure what to do with somebody with a musculoskeletal injury and a lot of patients just get sent to orthopaedics," she said.
"But probably up to 80% of patient appointments in orthopaedics don't require surgery."