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GPs to put standing desks to the test to ‘set example’ about active living

by Eleanor Philpotts
28 October 2019

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GPs are to pilot standing-up consultations, in order to ‘set an example’ to patients, in a move backed by the RCGP. 

Loughborough University is leading the joint study, with the primary aim of gauging whether swapping to standing desks could improve GPs’ own health. 

The first phase entails approximately 500 GPs throughout the UK being asked to complete a survey on their views on the issue, before those in the East and West Midlands will be asked to wear ActivPAL devices.

These are set to measure the time they spend sitting and standing while using their usual desk for consultations, then again using a £2,000 standing desk, allowing researchers to decipher changes to activity levels.

GPs will then be invited to be interviewed about their experiences to weigh up capacity for further expansion.

‘Changing nature to general practice’

Study lead Professor Amanda Daley, of Loughborough University’s School of Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences, told our sister publication Pulse that there has been great support from GPs already, and the target is to at least kickstart conversations and potentially inspire patients to make their own changes.

She added: ‘Any new projects take time, so there may be some resistance in the process. But there’s a changing nature to general practice, with group consultations for diabetes, for example, and increased emphasis on physical activity. We want the standing desks to ultimately become part of the Active Practices charter.’

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the RCGP, said: ‘GPs will always be open to new ideas and initiatives that help us, as well as our patients, lead more active lifestyles.

‘Standing consultations could be an effective way of having productive and beneficial conversations with some of our patients, particularly around ‘lifestyle’ issues and highlighting the need for us all to reduce our sitting time and move more.

‘The College is already running an Active Practices campaign in partnership with Sport England, encouraging healthcare staff and patients to increase our physical exercise so that we can all enjoy healthier lives. We look forward to hearing the results of this research so that the findings can be adopted appropriately.’

However, she acknowledged that in some cases, the ‘high-quality, face-to-face, communication’ integral to consultations will be unachievable if the GP is standing while their patient is sitting. 

She pointed out that this may also be unsuitable for patients who are less mobile or have complex needs; that some GPs won’t be physically able to participate in this way; and the importance of patients never feeling uncomfortable as a result of any ‘well-meaning initiatives’.

‘Ripple effect’

This project was alluded to in June, when Professor Stokes-Lampard, whose tenure as chair concludes next month, shared that the College would soon launch their own scheme, following the introduction of standing desks elsewhere in the NHS, to ‘tackle sedentary behaviour in the workplace’ and aim to ‘complement NICE’s new quality standard’.

Dr Sonali Kinra, a GP in Nottingham, where the pilot is being conducted, has been using standing desks for over a year, and praises the ‘ripple effect’, with admin staff also taking it up and patients responding positively.

The same has been experienced by fellow Nottinghamshire GP Dr Catherine Harrison, who replaced sitting for up to 12 hours a day with a standing desk almost two years ago. She told Pulse: ‘Standing at my desk has prompted lovely discussions with my patients – it opens the conversation about the dangers of sedentary working’.