A vast majority of doctors in England are “unfamiliar” with the recommended levels of physical activity – resulting in up to 72 per cent of GPs never discussing the benefits of prescribed exercise with patients.

The figures come from a new nationwide study – by Public Health England (PHE) – which revealed that 80 per cent of GPs in England say they are unaware of the national guidelines.

Co-authored by a PHE team led by Justin Varney – PHE’s National Lead for Adult Health and Wellbeing – the study surveyed more than 1,000 GPs in the England and published in the British Journal of General Practice.

It showed that only 20 per cent of responders were broadly or very familiar with the national physical activity (PA) guidelines.

In all, 70 per cent of GPs were aware of the General Practice Physical Activity Questionnaire (GPPAQ), but 26 per cent were not familiar with any PA assessment tools, and 55 per cent reported that they had not undertaken any training with respect to encouraging PA.

Set out by the Chief Medical Office in July 2011, the national guidelines recommend that adults aged between 19 and 64 undertake at least 75 minutes of intense activity (or 150 minutes of moderate physical activity) a week.

In his conclusion, Varney said “Awareness of the recommended tool for assessment, GPPAQ, is higher than use by GPs.

“This may be because it is used by other clinical staff, for example, as part of the NHS Health Check programme.

“Although brief advice in isolation by GPs on PA will only be a part of the behaviour change journey, it is an important prompt, especially if repeated as part of routine practice.

” Varney added that the study highlights the need for significant improvement in knowledge, skills, and confidence to maximise the potential for PA advice in GP consultations.

To read the full GPs’ knowledge, use, and confidence in national physical activity and health guidelines and tools report, click here.