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Pioneering healthy living scheme at Ebbsfleet Garden City set to reduce strain on NHS in north Kent

PUBLISHED: 10:37 21 July 2017 | UPDATED: 10:37 21 July 2017

Volunteers are being urged to get active

Volunteers are being urged to get active

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Dozens of residents are having their fitness levels monitored for a year as part of a new project

Plans for Ebbsfleet Garden City Plans for Ebbsfleet Garden City

A scheme to monitor the fitness levels of dozens of Ebbsfleet Garden City residents could help reduce the strain on health services in north Kent, bosses claim.

The nearby Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford was almost pushed to breaking point last winter as patients were desperately urged to stay away from its A&E department if possible, after experiencing an average of 70 more people a day using its services than the previous year.

However, bosses at the Ebbsfleet development - set to deliver up to 15,000 homes - are taking a proactive approach to encourage active living in the city, after it was given ‘healthy new town’ status by the NHS last year.

As part of the project, up to 100 residents - from between the ages of 23 and 74 - will wear Fitbits to track their activity over a 12-month period.

The information will be recorded throughout the year to capture and understand which locations and routes are preferred for walking, cycling and running in new and existing communities.

Kevin McGeough is the director of the Ebbsfleet Garden City Healthy New Town programme.

He told Kent News: “We’ve got a real opportunity here to learn lessons about how we create healthy new communities from the outset and make sure it’s a really modern, fabulous place that includes everybody.

“This particular programme is sponsored by the NHS because they see if you start investing time in creating communities from the beginning you can make long term savings to the health service.

“So instead of just building more hospitals and GP surgeries, let’s actually work with people from the beginning and try to encourage them to be healthier and live happier lives.

“If we start giving people information about their own health, they can take control themselves, again without relying on hospitals or GP services.

“In some experiments previously where people have been given Fitbits, they tend to be active for about two months and then they get bored and drop off, so in this initiative we give them the monitoring device but also try to set up networks of support within the north Kent area and show people that getting fit can be fun.”

Volunteers are encouraged to work together to improve their health and were given a taste of activities they can enjoy, and services they can benefit from, at a launch event at Ebbsfleet United Football Club on Thursday.

The garden city is one of 10 demonstrator sites in NHS England’s programme and, as the biggest, is asking to take the lead in order to help address identified health issues which include obesity and adult diabetes.

Earlier this week, figures revealed that one in five children in Kent begin primary school overweight, and then one in three end primary school obese.

Furthermore, nearly 65 per cent of people aged over 16 in the county are described as being overweight or obese - more than 800,000 people.

Mr McGeough added: “There are very high incidences of diabetes and childhood obesity here and we want to address that, so it’s about getting the whole family active.

“We’ve also got an initiative called Edible Ebbsfleet and that’s about having fruit and vegetables on all the streets.

“If we’re going to have hedges, let’s have fruit hedges, if we’re going to have trees, let’s have fruit trees.

“At the minute the statistics show children are not eating their five a day so let’s make it easy and have it on the streets where they can see it every day.

“For every problem we see we just have to find a solution.

As well as tracking their fitness progress, the volunteers will also be tracked geographically using GPS, so that bosses can better understand where people are walking, cycling and running in order to inform future investment and priorities for new infrastructure as the development expands.

As a result, it means the residents will be shaping the future design of the city, to ensure it benefits as wide a range of people as possible.

As the north Kent population soars, ensuring the relevant infrastructure and support is in place is vital, and Dartford Borough Council this week took a firm stand against the government, urging ministers to provide a fair funding settlement for health services amid fears doctors and nurses are being “let down” by a lack of support.

Mr McGeough said he recognised the strain being put on Darent Valley and that helping to ease that pressure was at the heart of the the healthy new town project.

“We’re going to be delivering services in a completely different way,” he said.

“We’re planning to create a health hub in the centre of Ebbsfleet where people can choose to go and get their services there but you can’t just keep building hospital beds.

“For example, if we make all the houses accessible and flexible, if someone does break their leg they can go home, as opposed to breaking leg and being stuck in hospital because your house isn’t suitable for you.

“Let’s design all those things out from the beginning.”

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