The number of exercise referral schemes expanded rapidly across the UK during the 1990s. Health professionals are thought to be one of the most credible sources of health advice for patients and, hence, are thought to have a pivotal role to play in exercise referral schemes. The aim of the study was to investigate the exercise referral process from the health professional's perspective, specifically examining perceived barriers to referral, priority given to an exercise referral scheme in day-to-day consultations, perceived importance of their role in the process and referring practices. Quantitative and qualitative research methods were utilized with 49% (n = 71) of general practitioners and practice nurses (collectively referred to as health professionals throughout), in a large North West borough (population size approximately 287,000) responding to a postal survey and 11 health professionals (general practitioners n = 9 and practice nurses n = 2) volunteering to take part in a semi-structured interview. Barriers to the referral of patients included lack of time, lack of feedback regarding the patients referred, medico-legal responsibility, a feeling that patients may not take exercise advice given and the belief that physical activity promotion is not a priority during routine consultations. Health professionals refer individuals to an exercise referral scheme on an unsystematic basis and express mixed opinions regarding their perceived role in patient physical activity behaviour change. This study calls for closer partnership working, involving training for promoting physical activity in general practice. Also, greater feedback with regard to patient benefits is needed, in order to overcome some of the practical and perceived barriers for health professionals when referring patients to an exercise referral scheme.