At the start of the year, the NHS published its "ambitious but realistic" Long Term Plan which set out its strategy for the next decade and where it looks at prevention, mental health and the role technology can play. A constant feature was the recognition that not staying active is a big reason for premature death.
A tactic to relieve the pressure off the NHS is to find a genuine solution to encourage people to lead healthier lives. Data from UK Active reveals physical inactivity over a ten year period causes "370,00 premature deaths and costs us £200bn over the same period." However, the NHS plan overlooked the positive impact physical activity can have and there is huge potential from this sector.
Obesity costs the NHS huge totals, with a staggering 23% of adults classified as obese in 2016, and yet there was no suggested plan to inspire people to become more physically active, only a section on bettering diets to reverse this national problem.
Getting physically active depends on fostering a healthy mindset and having a place to play. Schools don't just have a role in creating that mindset for children, but also providing the places to get involved in fitness activities. How people spend their time is increasingly affected by convenience and with each school having its local catchment area, they are often the most geographically accessible place to play sport.
Schools own 35% of the facilities across England, the largest proportion of all operator types, but 40% of these are currently publically inaccessible. Trusts, councils and commercial operators are all doing a better job than schools at giving places to play sports in the UK.
A good portion of schools don't have the expertise to advertise their facilities to the local community, or the resource or technology to handle bookings. Schools are the slowest to roll out online booking platform, and yet the alternative is dedicating hours to managing enquiries- data focusing on schools reveals the booking conversion rates sits at a lowly 5.4% thanks to the inability of making instant bookings. This is incredibly inefficient and acts as a disincentive for people to organise a game or activity.
Sports charities are starting to play their part, which the Football Foundation showcased by rolling out its innovative booking portal for school football facilities across the UK with the system provided by MyLocalPitch. This improves the opportunity for schools to raise money for their facilities, as being digitally accessible for local communities is now an integral factor in sourcing funding.
Schools could be better taught about how to become more accessible. There are operational reasons that are often given as a barrier to opening up facilities for public bookings, and one of the most often listed is insurance, however this is usually covered by third party liability insurance, required by schools, and a quick phone call to insurers can sort this.
A report from UK Active shows schools can big a huge help taking some of the pressure off the NHS by improving people's physical and mental health. There must be better support for school facilities in growing participation rates by becoming bookable, increasing their exposure and improving accessibility through simple online booking technology.