Print Posted 13/03/2017 in Community

Bringing Yoga into the NHS

Bringing Yoga into the NHS

The Minded Institute, Leading the Way in Embedding Yoga into Public Health Care, Calls for all Yoga Practitioners Working in the NHS to Get in Touch!

First launched in 1948, the NHS was born out of a passionate ideal that healthcare should be available to all people, in all economic circumstances, at all ages and stages of their lives. With the exception of some charges, such as dental services and prescriptions, the NHS in England remains a predominantly free service and deals with a staggering one million patients every 36 hours. Phenomenally, the NHS employs over 1.5 million people, and has an annual expenditure of over 110 billion pounds.   

The NHS does not have an easy job by any means, with staff cuts, taxed resources and increasing levels of long-term lifestyle conditions that require continual attention, the situation is often seen as dire. According  to the Department of Health England, 15 million people, or about one third of the population, suffers from a long-term chronic health condition. Public Health England states the most common long-term conditions in the UK include hypertension, low back pain, depression, diabetes, coronary heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.  People with long-term conditions are the most frequent users of the health care system and absorb 70 percent of the primary and acute ‘health and care’ budget. This limits the budget for acute conditions, places enormous pressure on staff, and consequently has the NHS seeking solutions to enhance staff well-being, increase prevention and improve early intervention measures in long-term conditions. The inclusion of yoga into the NHS may be able to support the NHS in all these goals and it seems that the NHS is interested in this possibility.

For example, in response to the mounting stress on staff, a £450 million initiative was launched early in 2016, backed by Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, to improve staff health and cut the growing amount of sick leave. As part of this initiative, trusts can apply for yoga funding for staff. At his organisation’s annual conference in Manchester, Stevens explained, “NHS staff have some of the most critical but demanding jobs in the country. When it comes to supporting the health of our own workforce, frankly the NHS needs to put its own house in order”.

Simon Stevens would appear to be responding both to the growing body of research expounding yoga’s benefits for a vast of array of physical and psychological conditions and also to the compelling findings of a recent survey; in 2012, the results of a national survey of yoga practitioners found that frequency of yoga practice was repeatedly a predictor of multiple aspects of health including mindfulness, subjective wellbeing, body mass index, fruit and vegetable consumption, alcohol consumption, energy levels and sleep disturbance[P1] .

The proposal to make yoga classes available to all NHS staff was greeted with eager anticipation by the yoga community, who have long understood the numerous and far-reaching health and psychosocial benefits of yoga, particularly its benefits for those under considerable amounts of stress. Yoga interventions, in fact, are already offered to hospital staff as a matter of course in many healthcare institutions in other countries with the USA, Canada, Sweden and Australia appearing to lead the way in such initiatives. In January 2016, Dr Matthew Joslin, a Manchester-based GP, wrote an open letter, on a prescription pad, to the NHS appealing for greater incorporation of yoga into day-to-day healthcare here in the UK. To his astonishment, the letter went viral, receiving over 17,000 Facebook shares and he received national press.  Dr. Joslin is well-known for prescribing yoga to patients and other doctors are starting to follow suit.

Yoga is also finding recognition in other tiers of health care.  The evidence for the efficacy of yoga for lower back pain is so compelling that the National Institute for Clinical Excellence updated its guidance on lower back pain and sciatica at the end of 2016, with yoga recommended as a primary conservative measure.

With the vast array of benefits for both NHS staff and patients in mind, the Minded Institute has been working in collaboration with leading UK yoga organisations, and healthcare professionals, educators and researchers who are interested in seeing yoga’s inclusion in the NHS. The overall objective is to increase the availability and raise the awareness of therapeutic yoga to both health care providers and patients. This work will hopefully dovetail on the well-being initiative outlined by Stevens and help to achieve some of his targets.

So far the group has found the NHS and some members of Parliament to be very amenable to yoga. On the 14th June 2016, an Early Day Motion (EDM) was put forward, by MP Bob Blackman, member of the APPG on Traditional Indian Sciences, for yoga to be included in to healthcare. An EDM is a formal motion for a topic to be debated and brings attention to the cause. This EDM outlines how the House of Commons recognises that yoga is a multi-dimensional approach to encouraging well-being; appreciates the link between physical and psychological health and lifestyle; appreciates that yoga is a reflective and non-invasive practice, which is appropriate in all stages of life; recommends yoga to be included as part of mindfulness and well-being initiatives for NHS staff and for yoga to be integrated within treatment for patients; and urges the Department for Education to introduce yoga in the school physical education curriculum.

Following on from this, a policy group is in the making, which is working in conjunction with the APPG on Traditional Indian Sciences and other leading yoga organisations, to map out a strategy for yoga’s inclusion in the NHS. One of their first actions is to collate information about all yoga teachers working in the NHS in the UK. This will allow the group to know what is already happening, get useful information about how yoga is best received in the NHS, and launch a platform that many people can get involved in.  If you are a yoga teacher in any way working in, or connected with, the NHS you are emphatically urged to get in touch with a view to creating a more formalised action towards influencing the health services as a collective group. Between us, we surely possess a rich wealth of knowledge and experience, and no doubt a plethora of innovative and diverse ideas; together can do so much more than any one of us as an individual can achieve alone. Please take action now and write to to tell the Minded Institute about the work you are doing with yoga in the NHS and where. Namaste, Heather Mason

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