Going public on health

Did you know that our patron is Prof Stephen Singleton? He has been backing the campaign since our early days: “Cycling could transform Tyneside. If cycling was a tablet or a medical intervention it would be a best buy for the health service” and he continues here. More recent developments in the health landscape will result in decision-making on public health strategy and budget spending being more made more locally. You may recall we’d previously contacted the Directors of Public Health, we’ve now written to the Chairs of the respective local authority boards

Dear Councillor Forbes (Newcastle)
Dear Councillor Henry (Gateshead)
Dear Mayor Arkley (North Tyneside)

Last summer Newcastle Cycling Campaign wrote to local Directors of Public Health about increasing cycling locally (enclosed).

Cycling as part of daily life has huge potential to reduce health inequalities, bring economic benefits to urban areas, decrease obesity and its related ills, improve mental wellbeing and increase community cohesiveness. At present utility cycling on Tyneside is close to its historic low. Booms in cycling are mentioned in the media, but mostly this is sportive and leisure cycling, and the usual petrol price as well as economic downturn related fluctuations play their part.

An associated increase in general cycling is happening in many places in the UK, but not the North East.

There is overwhelming evidence of the health benefits of regular daily cycling as a transport mode, and yet it remains low on local authorities’ list of priorities and has suffered official neglect for several decades in the UK. Cycling’s share of trips is about 1-2% in the UK compared with about 10% in Sweden, Finland and Germany, 20% in Denmark and almost 30% in Netherlands.

The main reason for this low participation in cycling is that the reallocation of road space in built up areas, road planning to encourage cycling and sustained spending on meaningful cycling infrastructure have not happened here.

Recent research led by Lancaster University Understanding Walking and Cycling 2011 [ref.1] has shown that people’s willingness to cycle is greatly influenced by the state of the physical environment, household barriers and what is perceived as ‘normal’. This leads to a vicious circle where the physical and household barriers to cycling mean that relatively few people travel by bike. Cycling is therefore seen as ‘abnormal’, which adds to the reluctance to start cycling.

In November 2012 NICE issued Public Health guidance on cycling and walking, Walking and cycling: local measures to promote walking and cycling as forms of travel or recreation [ref.2]. It asks that directors of public health, public health portfolio holders in local authorities and clinical commissioning groups take action:

  • Ensure a senior member of the public health team is responsible for promoting walking and cycling. They should support coordinated, cross-sector working, for example, by ensuring programmes offered by different sectors complement rather than duplicate each other (see recommendation 2). The senior member should also ensure NICE’s recommendations on physical environment and health [ref.3] are implemented.
  • Ensure the joint strategic needs assessment, the joint health and wellbeing strategy and other local needs assessments and strategies take into account opportunities to increase walking and cycling. They should also consider how impediments to walking and cycling can be addressed.
  • Ensure walking and cycling are considered, alongside other interventions, when working to achieve specific health outcomes in relation to the local population (such as a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes, or the promotion of mental wellbeing). These include outcomes identified through the joint strategic needs assessment process.
  • Ensure walking and cycling are included in chronic disease pathways.
  • Ensure all relevant sectors contribute resources and funding to encourage and support people to walk and cycle.
  • Where appropriate, ensure walking and cycling are treated as separate activities which may require different approaches.
  • Ensure walking and cycling projects are rigorously evaluated. This includes evaluating their impact on health inequalities.

These guidelines build on NICE public health guidance 8, Promoting and creating built or natural environments that encourage and support physical activity [ref.4].

The development of the joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy offers an opportunity to incorporate the NICE guidelines by taking a broad ‘assets’ approach to health, drawing on the skills and knowledge in the local community, and identifying local solutions to local issues. The voluntary sector body, Newcastle Cycling Campaign provides grass roots knowledge to support and facilitate change and acts as an independent voice for cyclists and cycling organisations in and around Newcastle. The campaign is particularly keen to increase ‘everyday cycling’ through the provision of safer and more enjoyable cycling conditions.

As members of the Newcastle Cycling Campaign Public Health and Cycling subgroup, we urge the Wellbeing for Life Board to consider how everyday cycling, as part of sustainable and active travel, can be supported long-term through the Wellbeing for Life Strategy. We would like to attend a meeting and give a brief presentation to outline the local barriers to cycling and the indisputable benefits of active travel locally and to support you in delivering NICE Public Health Guidance 8 and NICE Public Health Guidance 41.

Yours sincerely,
Peter Ward, Newcastle Cycling Campaign, Public Health and Cycling – subgroup lead
Katja Leyendecker, Newcastle Cycling Campaign Chair

Members of the Newcastle Cycling Campaign – Public Health and Cycling subgroup:
Prof Mima Cattan, Professor of Public Health
Dr Paul Goldsmith, Consultant neurologist, RVI
Dr Tony Waterston, Retired Consultant Paediatrician and Senior Lecturer in Child Public Health

Enclosed – letter to directors of Public Health, 2012 [https://newcycling.org/public-health-letter-directors-public-health]

1. Pooley, C., Tight, M., Jones, T. et al. (2011) Understanding Walking and Cycling. Summary of key findings and recommendations. Lancaster University: Lancaster.
2. http://guidance.nice.org.uk/PH41
3. http://guidance.nice.org.uk/PH8
4. http://www.nice.org.uk/nicemedia/pdf/PH008Guidancev2.pdf [pdf]

UPDATE by 10 February all three had acknowledged receipt
UPDATE on 8 February we also sent a letter to Northumberland County Council (awaiting confirmation of receipt)