Activity champions getting physical

Physiotherapy workers involved in leading and promoting a free activity programme

Activity champions getting physical

The CSP-endorsed Physical Activity Clinical Champions programme supports healthcare professionals to advise people on increasing their physical activity. 

What are Physical Activity Clinical Champions?

They are practicing healthcare professionals training other health professionals to give them the knowledge and skills to incorporate physical activity into their everyday practice.

Anna Lowe, the programme’s lead allied health Physical Activity Clinical Champion, and also a chartered physiotherapist, explains the programme: The chief medical officers of the four nations recently published updated guidance on physical activity for health, which reaffirms the message that regular physical activity provides a range of physical and mental health benefits. These include reducing the risk of disease, managing existing conditions, and developing and maintaining physical and mental function. Physical activity is not just a health issue. It brings people together to enjoy shared activities and contributes to building strong communities while supporting the economy to grow.

It is recognised that healthcare professionals have an important role to play in supporting people to become more active. We know that people who have a disability are twice as likely to be inactive as those who do not have a disability. Physiotherapists, for example, often work with people who experience persistent pain, fatigue and breathlessness and face many barriers to becoming more active. 

  • Since 2016 22,000 healthcare professionals have recieved training
  • There are 50 champions across England
  • 9 are physios

There is evidence that physiotherapists are trusted credible messengers of physical activity information and there is often a natural opportunity to talk about the impact of activity on long term health during clinical interactions. But there is evidence that this opportunity is not always taken up. It suggests that many GPs are not confident talking to patients about physical activity, and studies show that physiotherapists can miss opportunities to link patients into initiatives that support activity.

Training health professionals

The Physical Activity Clinical Champions (PACC) programme was developed to increase the knowledge, skills and confidence of healthcare professionals in promoting activity to patients. In England, it is part of a bigger Public Health England and Sport England programme called ‘Moving Healthcare Professionals’. The PACC role involves going out to venues, often GP practices or hospitals, to meet with other healthcare professionals and benefit from some protected learning time.

The programme started in 2016 and since then, more than 22,000 healthcare professionals have received training. The evaluation from the initial phase suggests that it helps to increase their knowledge and confidence and that following the training they have conversations with patients about physical activity more often.

Embedding activity in practice

Champions training is now being scaled up and new champions have just been recruited. There are now around 50 champions across England, and nine of them are physiotherapists.

They provide free training sessions, which include information on the current guidelines and lots of practical tips and advice on how to embed physical activity into clinical practice. The champions are regionally based. Their training includes brief information on campaigns – such as ‘We are UndefeatABLE’ and the CSP’s Love activity, Hate exercise? – as well as information on physical activity opportunities in the local area that attendees may be able to link patients into.

The CSP view

The CSP is fully supportive of PHE’s approach in engaging healthcare professionals as PACCs. Many of our members have already taken part in the training and are incorporating the approach into their clinical care. We are pleased to endorse the programme.

Abi Henderson is a physiotherapist, and one of the CSP’s professional advisers, who has recently trained as a champion.She says: ‘As a paediatric physiotherapist, physical activity has always been a key part of my patient management from both a physical and mental health perspective. However, over my last two years in clinical practice, I became acutely aware of the growing evidence of the power of physical activity and of the crucial role physios can and should play in public health. I questioned whether what I was doing already was enough. Concluding it wasn’t, I embarked on a local quality improvement project (with the support of an NHS Improvement and AHPs4PH collaborative) that increased the knowledge of my team on the physical activity guidelines and supported them to make brief advice about physical activity a part of their routine interactions with patients. The success of the project reaffirmed to me that all healthcare professionals have a responsibility to educate and support their patients to be more active. It also demonstrated that it was entirely possible to incorporate this into usual daily patient interactions and actually enhanced patient care. Working now for the CSP as a professional adviser, the PACC role completely aligns with our Love activity, Hate exercise? campaign, which prompts physio workers to discuss, encourage and facilitate patients to be more physically active at whatever level they are able. Working as a clinical champion across Yorkshire and Humber gives me the opportunity to equip healthcare professionals across all disciplines with the knowledge and confidence to empower them to have those crucial routine conversations about physical activity. The new CMO Physical Activity guidelines clearly state, ‘some is good but more is better’. This message is the same for discussions about physical activity – any conversation you have with your patients to encourage activity is good but the more conversations healthcare professionals have, the greater the benefit will be to population health.’

Any conversation you have with your patients to encourage activity is good but the more conversations healthcare professionals have, the greater the benefit will be to population health

How to book

Training is free and can be delivered at a time/venue to suit your team. If you would like to book a session please contact;

The champions say:

‘I applied because I see physical activity promotion as a key part of my role. Working with cancer patients has meant I’ve seen first-hand the difference it can make when we support people to be active despite their health challenges. There seems to be a real momentum around physical activity at the moment and I was keen to find out more about PHE’s work in this area having been inspired by recent initiatives such as the Moving Medicine resource. It’s also a chance to develop my teaching skills to a range of audiences in an area I feel passionate about.’
Sarah Dewhurst, oncology physiotherapist at the Royal Marsden Hospital, London

‘I’m really excited to be one of the champions for the London region. I’m well aware of the health and wellbeing benefits of physical activity, particularly in relation to my clinical specialty, patient population in oncology. This role allows me an opportunity to share the message more widely and encourage clinicians to incorporate the conversation into practice.’

  • Kath Malhotra, specialist physiotherapist in oncology 

‘With 34 years’ experience as a physio I have always been passionate about physical activity and believe that the PACC role will allow me to share the messages in a more structured way. I have lived and worked in Sussex for more than 20 years, developing a wide network of like-minded clinicians and hope to be able to work with these to arrange training sessions to enhance patient care in AHPs, GPs and nurses.’

  • Sheila Doughty, area therapy lead, Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust

‘I applied for the role due to my interest in the benefits of physical activity on health, having completed a sports science degree before qualifying to be a physiotherapist. I realised that, while I’m able to discuss this openly with patients, for others this may not come as easily. Working with patients with neurological conditions, I tend to move away from conventional set home exercise programmes that people find hard to adhere to, and instead look at specific activities or hobbies that promote physical activity. I’m looking forward to promoting the role to other healthcare professionals. 

  • Amy Vallis, senior physiotherapist, integrated community neurology team, East Coast Community Healthcare


Number of subscribers: 2

Log in to comment and read comments that have been added