Exercise referral schemes (ERS) are a programme commonly used in the UK to prescribe exercise and promote physical activity (PA) for treatment and management of physical and mental health conditions. Limited research has explored the effectiveness of these programmes for mental illness based on the experiences and perspectives of exercise practitioners in this setting. The aim of this research was to explore the experiences of exercise practitioners in facilitating and promoting PA for mental illness. This included gaining insight regarding current programme structure and delivery methods used, the practitioner’s role and the training provided. 8 exercise practitioners (EP) were recruited from exercise prescription settings across England. Semi-structured interviews took place online via Microsoft Teams and were transcribed verbatim. Transcriptions were analysed for common themes using inductive thematic analysis. Trustworthiness was determined using member reflections. Three higher order themes were identified: (1) Practitioners perceived roles, opposition, and recommendations; (2) Training efficacy, role of experience and essential skills development; and (3) Scheme efficacy, limitations, and recommended improvements. Practitioner’s role was identified as containing many roles when working with mental health clients. EPs reported the need for more practitioner-client contact to be incorporated into programme structure to ensure greater client outcomes. Additional training relating to mental health training was highly recommended within the setting as current training does not provide in depth knowledge and skills to promote PA for mental illness. Overall schemes were considered a great starting place for getting active with some facilitators and barriers within structure identified. The current research found that additional training including mental health training may better equip practitioners to promote PA for mental illness and provide adequate support to mental health clients.
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