An evaluation of the National Exercise Referral Scheme in Wales

Lead investigator
Prof. Simon Murphy, Cardiff University

The health benefits of a physically active lifestyle are well established and there is evidence that a sedentary lifestyle plays a significant role in the onset and progression of chronic disease. There is a recognised need for effective exercise referral schemes encouraging sedentary people with a medical condition to become more active. However, there are few rigorous evaluations of the effectiveness of such schemes.
In Wales, in the early half of the last decade, most local health board areas operated exercise referral schemes, each following different protocols. However, in 2006, existing good practice was assessed and standardised in national protocols, and the National Exercise Referral Scheme (NERS) subsequently rolled out throughout Wales. The scheme consists of a series of motivational interview consultations with an exercise professional based in a community sports centre, and access to a tailored, subsidised 16 week activity programme. The primary aim is for participants to achieve 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on at least five days per week.

Aims & objectives
The aim of the project is to determine the effectiveness of the NERS as it is rolled out in 13 implementation areas.
Study design

Randomised control trial.

  • The evaluation adopted a randomised controlled trial design, with nested economic and process evaluations to assess whether NERS was effective, for whom, under what circumstances and at what cost.
  • The study aimed to investigate whether self-reported physical activity (as well as depression and anxiety) at 12 months differed among patients participating in the NERS compared to those receiving usual GP care.
  • Participants (n = 2104) were randomised to either a treatment or control group, and outcomes were measured at baseline and at six- and twelve-month follow-up.
Further information & publications
Start date
May 2006
End date
Jan 2010

Welsh Government, Health Promotion division

Trial register number