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GP Referral Scheme has given me ‘a new lease of life’ – Ramsey

16 February 2018

Former Mayor of Derry and Foyle MLA Pat Ramsey has said he has significantly benefitted from an expanded GP Referral Scheme which has given him ‘a new lease of life’ following health problems associated with a degenerative back problem.

Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Leisure and Sport department expanded their GP Referral Scheme following the success of the project when it was re-launched in 2015.

The initiative is funded by the Public Health Agency and is specifically aimed at sufferers of diabetes, obesity and muscular skeletal injuries. The project allows doctors to recommend sufferers to take up regular exercise under the supervision and direction of qualified gym instructors to help manage their conditions and hopefully alleviate their health problems through regular exercise.

The GP Referral Scheme is currently hosted in Derry’s Foyle Arena and at Strabane’s Riversdale Leisure Centre – and is due to be rolled out in Templemore Sports Complex and Brooke Park gyms after Easter.

Pat Ramsey, who started the scheme in November at the Foyle Arena with Exercise Referral Co-ordinator Sean Hargan, said:

“At 59 years of age, I was actually never in a gym before in my life – and was very apprehensive and daunted by the thought of it.

“Indeed, the hardest job was getting from the sofa to the front door!

“One of the initial challenges for me to overcome was also going into a gym environment and participating specifically in mainly non weight-bearing exercises as someone who suffers from ‘avascular necrosis’ and severe back problems which I am awaiting surgery for.

“However, Sean was a really great trainer who immediately put me at ease.”

Pat is also full of praise for the GP Referral Scheme which he describes as a ‘fantastic programme’ which helps prevent the development of health problems through regular exercise and empowers people to better manage their conditions.

“Participating in this fantastic scheme really has resulted in a huge dividend for me personally – both physically and mentally” he said.

“I would also like to commend all of the staff at the Foyle Arena – and in particular Sean who has been inspiring!

“Participation in this scheme really has given me a new lease of life.

“I am also very keen now to be a regular user of the Foyle Arena – as it has helped me realise the huge benefits of regular exercise. 

“Indeed, I now feel like a million dollars every time I leave the place! 

Former Derry City footballer Sean Hargan has been working on the GP Referral Scheme for more than two years now – with over 250 clients last year alone.

He also believes that the main focus of the programme is to offer people a way to manage their conditions through regular exercise rather than simply relying on medication prescribed by their doctor.

“Regular physical activity can help people stabilise their conditions and in some cases helps them make a recovery” he said.

“For diabetics, regular exercise can help get their blood sugars under control, obesity sufferers can lose weight and people with muscular skeletal injuries such as back or shoulder pain are less likely to be in discomfort if they stay active.”

Sean acknowledges that entering a gym for the first time can be a really intimidating experience but says that he consistently sees new clients grow in confidence within a matter of weeks and reap the health benefits of the programme.

“The biggest obstacle for people like Pat and others is often getting past an initial apprehension and nerves about being in a gym” he said.

“They can come in and see people lifting big weights or going hard on the treadmill and believe that they don’t belong there.

“Having worked with Pat, you are aware that maybe they haven’t done exercise in a long time or possibly have never been to a gym.  I therefore ensure that I take a softer approach and schedule new clients to attend at less busy times – which is also less intimidating for them.

“I also tailor a programme of exercises to suit each individual’s specific needs. For example, Pat found it really enjoyable going from 15 minute sessions to hour-long ones in a gradual progression.

“For me as a trainer, it is great to see people who have never been to a gym before really enjoy the experience – not least the ‘social aspect’ of meeting new people in a new environment.

“It is also great that after participating in the GP Referral Scheme, Pat and the other clients are now confident and competent in a gym environment and in using all the equipment at hand.

“I am also delighted there is a high retention rate from the scheme of 80 percent plus – which is a pathway for cheaper gym membership and importantly continuing with regular exercise. 

“Indeed, when people finish their own programme, it’s my job to make sure they have a plan going forward!  That can involve becoming a gym member or getting involved in another activity.

“Ultimately, getting that behavioral change in clients and seeing them get back to a healthy fitness level is ‘hugely rewarding’” said Sean.

In the first eight weeks of the GP Referral Scheme, clients are offered two sessions with a trainer per week and access to all other facilities within the Council’s leisure centres – including swimming pools.

At the end of the eight week programme, reduced membership rates are available for the next four months to encourage clients to continue with their progress.

Forms are available to apply for the scheme at the reception of the Foyle Arena and Riversdale Leisure Centre and from your GP.

To learn more about the GP Referral Scheme please contact Sean Hargan at the Foyle Arena on 028 71 376555 or Vincent McCarron at the Riversdale Leisure Centre on 71 382672.