Sport and Exercise Medicine in the United Kingdom comes of age

Illustraion: British Journal of Sports Medicine

M Cullen and M Batt

British Journal of Sports Medicine

May 2005, Volume 39, Pages 250-251

The 21st February 2005 proved to be a 'red letter day' for Sport and Exercise Medicine (SEM) in the UK, as the Department of Health announced that it was approving the application for specialty status of SEM clinicians. The new specialty of doctors trained in all aspects of Sports and Exercise Medicine (SEM) will be helping to keep the UK on target to be fit, healthy and active as soon as 2006.

The SEM doctors will not only treat injuries but will work in a variety of settings to help prevent injuries. Everyone, from recreational athletes to the nation's Olympic team, will have access to the doctors, who will work not only in hospitals but also with schools, community groups and professional sports clubs.

Historically, the UK had lagged behind other countries in recognising the specialty of SEM, but a campaign over the past seven years has helped sway opinion. Intervention by the Minister of Sport, Richard Caborn, in 2003 led to an educational forum and the subsequent formation of a working party tasked with developing the application. The working party consisted of medical professionals, representatives of UK Sport, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, and the Department of Health.

The timing of the application was favourable, as the government was increasingly turning its attention to strategies to defuse the public health problem posed by the trend of national levels of physical inactivity and obesity. This, coupled with London's bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games, of which the National Health Service (NHS) is a key supporter, provided the perfect backdrop highlighting the relevance of SEM to all levels of society.

The Department of Health accepted the reasoning that SEM practitioners would be ideally placed not only to provide timely and expert treatment of musculoskeletal injuries which were estimated to cost the NHS some £590 million per year, but also to coordinate a range of initiatives that would promote physical activity as an effective intervention and prevention tool for a wide spectrum of health problems.

UK Secretary of State for Health, John Reid said, "We are committed to making sure that the public is not only fit, active and healthy but has access to the right healthcare provision to support their lifestyle – we want to make the NHS not just a sickness service but a keep well service for patients and public."

Sports Minister Richard Caborn added, "Up to now many young British doctors who have wanted to concentrate on sport and exercise have moved abroad and often stayed abroad, leading to a 'brain drain' of experts in this important field. With this speciality now available in the UK, the effect will be wide ranging.

"From treating injuries to our top line sports stars to improving the health of the general public, SEM doctors will be a part of the daily lives of many different people. Research shows that if we can increase adult physical activity by as little as 10% we could prevent 6,000 premature deaths a year. SEM doctors will play a big part helping us hit this target."

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