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How transport can save the NHS

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Type: Article
Region: United Kingdom
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Cash spent on cycling and walking could save the NHS huge amounts of money and help defuse the obesity â?otime bombâ?, according to research published today by sustainable transport charity Sustrans. Its analysis of the economic benefits of a number of local walking and cycling schemes reveals that every £1 spent on a route generates a benefit worth £20, compared to the slimmer average return of other transport schemes such as rail and roads, which is typically £3 for every £1 spent.

The research is timely. As the Department of Health searches for ways of getting people in the UK more active, Sustransâ?T research takes the Governmentâ?Ts own methods of assessing the benefit to cost ratio of transport schemes. The findings highlight how money spent on creating an environment that encourages and enables walking and cycling directly saves NHS, and other spending, on preventable deaths from illnesses attributed to physical inactivity such as coronary heart disease, stroke and colon cancer.

The benefit to cost ratio is calculated by attributing a monetary value to a number of factors, from public health benefit (ie the cost saving of a healthier population), the savings to employers whose fitter workforce take less time off, and the time saved through shorter journeys, particularly during the school run peak periods. The costs include the investment costs of safe routes, maintenance expenditure, and losses to the Treasury that might result from tax revenue decreases due to reduced fuel sales as people switch from using their cars to walking and cycling.
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Sustrans has found that, by applying the same evaluation processes used by the Government to decide on transport projects from heavy rail to road improvements, recently constructed walking and cycling routes have a combined benefit to cost ratio of about 20:1. This is in contrast to a typical ratio of around 3:1 for a road or public transport scheme. For example the high profile £15 billion London Cross Rail project has a ratio of 2:1 and motorway improvement schemes often have a benefit value that is significantly lower than the cost.

The three walking and cycling routes in the study link schools and communities to the National Cycle Network in Liverpool, Hartlepool and East Sussex and cost £1.7 million to develop and build, but their benefit value is almost £33.5 million.

As the Government prepares its Comprehensive Spending Review, Sustrans is calling for a radical rethink of how funds are allocated, with more money being channelled into schemes that improve health, reduce travel times and give an overall better quality of life â?" all of which deliver real economic benefits. Such a move would save taxpayers millions of pounds while improving public health and the environment.

Philip Insall, director of Sustransâ?T Active Travel programme says: â?oWe believe that our results prove something we have known for many years - walking and cycling routes represent massive value to the nationâ?Ts health and public purse. And we believe that our results are conservative. The Governmentâ?Ts evaluation of roads fails to include their environmental impact. Likewise, neither have we for these walking and cycling schemes. Obviously this would significantly increase the benefit ratio as walking and cycling are the least environmentally damaging ways to travel.

â?oAs Government is, quite rightly, tackling obesity and public health in a cross-departmental way our figures show how important it is to focus on transport investment. They demonstrate that the initial DfT investment was a wise one, it has probably outperformed any other investment they have made this century. And they clearly show that by shifting some of the thousands of millions of pounds earmarked for expanding the road systems to schemes that improve the local environment for cycling and walking we can improve the nationâ?Ts health, cut congestion and tackle climate change all at once. So what are we waiting for?â?

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refer to the resource. () How transport can save the NHS [Online]. Available from: http://publichealthwell.ie/node/33115 [Accessed: 22nd May 2019].

  

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