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Putting your foot down - we have 'SPOKE' on the need for more active travel

Are the wheels turning on the way we travel

There are so many reasons why active travel is becoming a more viable option for some, especially during the current covid-19 era. For Workforce and OD it provides an opportunity to integrate an active travel plan as part of a wider staff Health and Wellbeing programme.

Using the term ‘active travel’ could be walking, cycling, scooter, e-bikes, part bus/walk for our commutes or transport mode. It gives the physical activity a purpose – not just health benefits but gets you to work or leisure destination. Physical activity gets rewired into our day habitually.

You don’t have to face traffic or car parking issues. You don’t feel pressured to try and fit in some physical activity at the end of the day when you may be pretty much exhausted. Heck you might even enjoy it. Of course it isn’t feasible for some, but for many it potentially is.

Why does it matter. For the purpose of this article lets focus on staff Health and Wellbeing. Air pollution (see British Lung Foundation report into high levels of air pollution round hospital sites*1) and the climate crisis movement aside.

It seems covid-19 could combine with air pollution to increase severity of risk hitching a ride on the dangerous particles coming out of our exhausts - according to some research (*2). It is fair to say it is an evolving research area.

Staff Health and wellbeing – the benefits of active travel.

The sport England active life survey*3 concludes;

  • Overall, in 2017/18, 25% of people aged 16 years and over in England were categorised as ‘physically inactive’ – that is, they did less than 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week

  • people from the Asian, Black and Other ethnic groups were more likely than average to be physically inactive, at 31%, 29%, and 30% respectively

Of course physical activity has wide ranging benefits most of us should be aware of which includes better mental, as well as physical wellbeing. Research is evolving. ‘Motion is lotion’ and the prescription of exercise as medicine for MSK and physical health conditions as well as mental health condition such as depression.

Regular exercise can boost your mood if you have depression, and it's especially useful for people with mild to moderate depression.

"Any type of exercise is useful, as long as it suits you and you do enough of it," says Dr Alan Cohen, a GP with a special interest in mental health.

A quick search through credible sources (Lancet journal, Public Health England, Sport England, National centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine) will give you more than enough information through grounded research on the health benefits of active travel.

These benefits directly link into preventative health agendas. Staff engagement. Building resilience around NCD’s (non communicable diseases). Positive lifestyle changes that can help reduce the chance of absence rates increasing due to the effects of physical inactivity (which include some NCD’s and in particular Cardiovascular disease and diabetes.)

With 9.5 million working days lost to MSK (musculoskeletal) conditions each year it is a huge concern. According to UK Government report 7 out 10 people (*4) with a long term MSK issue are overweight or obese.

Promoting physical activity, alongside a suite of other support services or resources around health eating and mental wellbeing has a role to play in educating staff about the benefits of moving more, of which active travel can play a part.

In 2017, according to the National travel survey (*5) 68% of all trips (under 5 miles) were undertaken by car. This distance is achievable on a bike (or e-bike) for many.

With current restrictions on public transport coupled together with a concerted National effort to make cycling and walking safe and more accessible promotes a golden opportunity.

Health and wellbeing of staff. Air pollution reduction. Easing of car parking pressures to keep spaces for priority patients / shift staff. Sustainability and Climate change agendas.

In other words it is a form of travel that doesn’t use the car ( or reduces car usage & dependency) which has individual and community benefits, Organisation benefits and even global climate benefits.

This feeds directly into staff engagement. It links into wider pay and benefits agenda. As an anchor organisation within its community NHS Trusts have the ability to embrace change and lead by example putting preventative health at the heart of its long term agenda.

Lycra clad cyclists and expensive geared hikers are no longer the target. Neither is converting the already converted. The real audience is the staff mass. Facilitating a choice by making it easier. Creating an environment that fosters behaviour change. Makes other forms of travel appealing. Providing an option.

Cycle to work salary sacrifice schemes. Safe and covered cycle storage. Showers, lockers and changing rooms to make physical activity easier. Onsite bike maintenance service. Or take advantage of the plethora of free cycle support services put in place to support key workers during covid-19.

“Ethical employer”. “ Employer of choice”. “ Total rewards package”. All buzz words flying around the private sector that helps retain talent and attract talent. Potential employees look at the wider benefits, culture and CSR (corporate social responsibility) objectives of their chosen employer. The NHS is no exception.

The world is a busy place with employees juggling multiple work streams professionally and personally. Physical activity has effectively dropped down our ‘to do list’. Active travel, potentially has the ability to transcend Organisational priorities from communications and PR, to Recruitment and retention by embracing a global climate friendly agenda.

It also aligns nicely to the push by Central Government on active travel and the vision around reducing current population obesity rates ( a risk factor in relation to covid-19 – identified by WHO *6) and thus reducing the potential threat of a spike in covid-19 and complications.

Chesterfield Royal Hospital Approach

Working with the sustainability coordinator at the Trust we introduced a communications approach during National cycle week (June 2020) and launched a new cycle to work scheme (with a £5k threshold to allow e-bike purchase) alongside our current £1k limit scheme.

Other examples of active travel support;

1. New changing room and showers in the Trust

2. Covered cycle storage pods around the site

3. Promotion of local Trans pennine trail route adjacent to Hospital linking town centre and train station

4. A feature in the Trans Pennine Newsletter on cycle commuting

5. Free bike maintenance and service onsite. Discounted repairs

6. Bike confidence training

7. Youtube videos talking about cycling and the cycle to work schemes

8. Involvement in the local transport forum

9. Collecting of case studies to share around Trust from new cycle commuters

10. New bus shelters (due to be installed) real time digital bus timetables

11. Health and wellbeing working more closely with finance / payroll to support new schemes around active travel

12. Active travel embedded into wider H&W programme and reports of cycle to work scheme usage fed into H&W committee.

13. Insight driven.

Andrew Picken

Workforce Health and Wellbeing Lead

Chesterfield Royal Hospital Foundation NHS Trust

Member of Royal Society for Public Health

Nationally cycle support offered to key workers.

Quella Bicycle 15% discount on all bikes offered to NHS staff.

British Cycling Free three-months commute membership, offering liability insurance, legal support, and other benefits.

Brompton Bicycle Ltd Rent a bike for as long as you need for just $1 via Brompton’s Wheel For Heroes partnership with Spinlister, a US based bike loaning platform. Bikes are available all across the UK, exclusively to NHS workers.

Reference sources







Sustrans Active Travel toolkit -

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