PEOPLE have stressed the importance of exercise and access to gyms and community fitness programmes in response to a public engagement exercise.

A draft plan to improve the health and wellbeing of local communities has received support from local people, following a public engagement exercise run by Healthwatch Cheshire East.

Steven Michael, chairman of Cheshire East Partnership, said people’s recommendations to strengthen its proposed Five-Year Plan would be reflected in a revised version.

He said: “I really appreciate the time and energy local people gave to their feedback. I heard some great suggestions at the event I attended and from reading the engagement report by Healthwatch.

“There is a lot for us to take away and further consider.

“For example, there was great emphasis on the importance of promoting services that are already available, as well as finding new ways for health and social care services to work more effectively together.

“The Five-Year Plan is vitally important because we can’t carry on as we are. Our growing and ageing population means more people need health and care support.

“At the same time, we recognise that people’s health and wellbeing is not simply about taking a pill, seeing a doctor or waiting for a service. It involves helping people to be more proactive in their own health and wellbeing. This means we need to be using information more effectively to identify vulnerable people who may be at risk and addressing the wider determinants of health such as housing, poverty, employment and education.”

The engagement exercise found many people believed the plan identified most of the key issues facing the area’s health and care services.

But they felt the plan needed more emphasis on preventing ill-health, intervening quickly when necessary and making services more accessible.

Early intervention and prevention were seen as important to preventing long-term ill health, including focusing on self-care, smoking, obesity and more mental health support.

It was felt the importance of exercise was missing from the plan, including access to gyms and community fitness programmes.

Feedback indicated that the importance of exercise could be strengthened in the plan while some respondents felt it lacked focus on accessibility, particularly being able to access GP appointments quickly, and being offered appointments that were local rather than having to travel long distances.

The engagement activity comprised 21 face-to-face listening events in community locations, a workshop attended by 15 Healthwatch volunteers and an online survey that attracted 272 responses.

The plan’s purpose is to enable people to live well for longer, to live independently and to enjoy the place where they live.

It will provide the blueprint for the work of all organisations involved in planning, buying and providing health and care services – and the work of many other organisations with responsibility for wellbeing.

The plan is underpinned by a commitment by health and social care organisations to work together more effectively to bring care closer to home.

Views expressed during the engagement will be reflected in a revised version of the plan, to be sent to Cheshire and Merseyside Health and Care Partnership for approval in November. Delivery of the plan would then start as soon as possible.