News, Culture & Society

NHS chief: Hospitals should offer spas and dance classes

Hospitals and GP surgeries should be located on the same sites as gyms and spas to encourage patients to lead healthier lifestyles, according to NHS bosses.

Mel Pickup, chief executive of Warrington and Halton Hospitals in Cheshire, said so-called wellness centres should be created in towns within the next ten years.

Patients would be able to attend Zumba classes or have a facial on the same site that they would have a hip replacement or attend a scan.

The proposals are part of the NHS’s ‘Healthy New Towns’ initiative whereby ten areas of England are pioneering different schemes to improve their population’s health.

They have been backed by Public Health England – the Government agency for preventing ill health – who said ‘fun and enjoyment’ helped keep people well.

The proposals are part of an NHS initiative involving pilots in 10 areas in England (stock photo)


The news of the ‘Healthy New Towns’ initiative comes as health chiefs warned waiting lists will soar this winter without funding boost. 

NHS Providers, a trade association which represents hospital trusts, earlier this month called for an emergency cash injection of up to £350million to help the health service get through the winter.

Its chief executive, Chris Hopson, said the NHS is facing its worst winter in recent history if it does not receive an immediate cash boost. And he said patients would be put at risk and waiting lists would soar unless action was taken.

Mr Hopson said: ‘Last winter the health service came under pressure as never before. At its height, the NHS had to provide 4,500 additional beds a day – equivalent to more than eight extra hospitals.

‘Patient safety was compromised as local services struggled to cope with the pressures. At times, in some places, the NHS was overwhelmed.

‘We must act now to prevent the situation becoming even worse this winter.’

‘Redefining’ hospitals 

One of these healthy new towns is Halton Lea, near Runcorn, in Cheshire, where NHS managers aiming to create paths and cycle ways to encourage more exercise.

Ms Pickup – a former nurse – said they were also intending to set up wellness centres, with hospitals, GP surgeries and leisure facilities all on one site.

She said: ‘It could be about having a facial in the spa, or going to a Zumba class alongside MRI scans and hip replacements.

‘This is the creation of a faculty that encompasses health and wellbeing.

‘It’s redefining what a hospital does. Not just being a sickness service but encouraging better lifestyles.

‘Bringing together healthcare – diagnostic care, elective treatment with more unusual options.

‘It would be a shared facility for the acute care and for the community to socialise, to exercise and to swim.’

Is this realistic? 

Ms Pickup admitted the plans were ambitious and were unlikely to happen until at least five or ten years’ time.

The NHS is facing severe funding crisis and is struggling to meet the needs of the rising, ageing population whilst also footing the bill for new drugs.

The prospect of managers building new wellness centres with hospitals, GP surgeries and spas currently seems very unrealistic.

But Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England said: ‘I think this is exactly what we should be doing. The NHS is the most powerful brand that we have got, but the focus has always been on illness not health.

‘Hospitals are part of the community and they should make more of that role, so that if you’ve got a bad back we’ll get you access to swimming.

‘This is the smartest move we could make. This is the big step forward – we want to see this everywhere.’