Building an Adventure Health Service

Andy Middleton
9th December 2015


Health is coming full circle at TYF as we tap into the power of the adventure networks across the UK to build a new cooperative venture with a goal of improving the health of the nation whilst reducing cost to the NHS. 


Standing on the shoulders of my parents and grandparents who trailblazed in the health sector, we’re planning to connect the coaching and outdoor skills of our industry’s 20,000+ outdoor instructors to deliver publicly funded programmes at scale. 


At the 2015 Association of Heads of Outdoor Education Centres national conference at Plas y Brenin, I presented outline ideas on what an Adventure Health Service might provide for the UK and invited industry colleagues to commit to delivering a scale of change together that we’d never be able to do apart. Over half said they were in, which makes a very different level of intervention possible. 


My father was a GP and carried out 90+ medical rescue missions with RAF’s 202 Search & Rescue Squadron; in his memoirs, he talked of a post-war golden age of medicine where antibiotics were new, resuscitation had just been invented and doctors had the freedom to apply common sense as well as bandages. The physical shape of the population was very different then, and the demands on the UK’s health services some 60 years after he started practicing, are very different. 


Diabetes UK estimate that the cost of treating diabetes complications will double to £13.5bn a year by 2035. Obesity deprives an individual of an extra nine years of life, preventing many people reach retirement age; the National Audit Office cautiously estimated the cost of obesity in the UK at £2.1bn a year in 1998. A Sustrans report highlights the £17bn a year savings that would come from doubling the amount of walking and increasing cycling eight-fold. 


Doctors and health professionals regularly tell me that it’s not the money that’s the problem, but more human factors. Some consultants struggle to let go of their knowingness for long enough to recognise the value of practical, proven solutions delivered by professionals outside the formal health system, and in other areas, it’s a lack of capacity by those offering services or the absence of a framework for programme funding that constraints good work with short term finance. 


Our goal is to use low-cost, high-impact adventure and outdoor activity interventions to address systemic mental and physical challenges that reach from pre-natal wellbeing to keeping nonagenarians active. To optimise benefits, we will work with health researchers, medical professionals and government officials to design a service with core funding. 


In the next six weeks, we are briefing health directors and in late January, will be meeting at Brathay Hall in the Lake District for a 36-hour sprint to build an offer of what’s possible.


If you’d like to get involved, or know someone networks, skills or resources that would help, you know what to do.


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