How effective is the integration of sport and exercise medicine in the English national health service for sport related injury treatment and health management?

Background: Regular participation in sport, exercise and physical activity is associated with positive health outcomes and form a mainstay of British public health policies. However, regular participation in sport and exercise can result in sport related injury (SRI) which, in turn, is a key cause of exercise cessation. The integration of Sport and Exercise Medicine (SEM) in the English National Health Service (NHS) aims to provide a specialist service for public populations and thus reduce the impact of SRI on exercise cessation and associated negative health outcomes. More broadly it aims to both support physical activity health promotion policies and improve healthcare organisations efficiencies through providing the most condition-appropriate treatment. Methods: This qualitative interview study examines patients’ (n=19) experiences of accessing and receiving SEM treatment within the English NHS. Results: The research demonstrates that referral pathways into SEM were often prolonged, characterised by multiple General Practitioner (GP) visits and referrals into other musculoskeletal services, demonstrating an inefficient use of healthcare resources. Prolonged pathways fostered only limited recovery back to previous physical activity levels and other negative health behaviours, yet on accessing the SEM clinic, patients experienced progressive rehabilitation back into sport and exercise participation. Conclusion: This study highlights the importance of more fully integrating SEM services into public healthcare as a way of improving the organisational capacity of healthcare in treating SRI and ensuring that citizens comply with state interventions which orchestrate health management through raising physical activity levels across the population.