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Healthcare for obese patients 'extremely patchy'

Doctors warn that the NHS must improve care for the increasing numbers of obese patients
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

2nd January 2013 - Doctors are warning that the healthcare system in Britain must adapt to the increasing number of obese people.

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) says the NHS currently has an 'extremely patchy' record and needs to adopt a more 'joined up' approach in order to tackle health complications stemming from being overweight, including heart disease, diabetes and arthritis.

25% are obese

Apart from the US, the UK now has the highest obesity rate in the world. Approximately a quarter of adults in the UK are classified as obese and it is predicted that most Britons will be obese by 2050.

The estimated cost of dealing with the health consequences of obesity is approximately £5 billion a year.

The report, 'Action on obesity: Comprehensive care for all', says no country on the planet has successfully tackled the problem in which obesity occurs more frequently, more severely and in younger people than was ever thought possible just a few years ago. As a result, doctors are increasingly likely to be confronted by patients who need their obesity managed, either in its own right or because of associated health problems.

Professor John Wass, chair of the working party and academic vice-president of the RCP, says in a statement: "Britain is getting bigger and whilst we try to prevent the increase in obesity, we must also prepare the NHS for the influx of patients presenting with severe complex obesity.

"A patient may arrive at my hospital with coronary heart disease, but if the root cause of their condition is obesity, we must be equipped to deal with that root cause."

Regional variations

However, the treatment that patients receive will depend on where they live, the report says. For instance, the rate of hospital bariatric procedures, such as gastric banding, ranges from 0.4% per 100,000 in some Primary Care Trusts, to 41.3 per 100,000 in others.

The working party makes a number of recommendations for improvement, including:

  • Creating a new government post to co-ordinate obesity issues across departments
  • Appointing a doctor in each hospital trust to oversee obesity issues
  • Creating multidisciplinary teams made up of physicians, surgeons, nurses and other health professionals to cover severe and complex obesity throughout the UK
  • Making GPs more responsible for dealing with weight issues in patients

Complex issue

Professor Lindsey Davies, president of the Faculty of Public Health, says in a statement: "Obesity is not only caused by how much we each eat or drink: if tackling it were as simple as telling people to eat less and move more, we would have solved it by now. Our chances of being obese are also affected by factors like whether we have easy access to affordable fruit, veg and other healthy foods, and if it [is] safe to let our kids play outside.

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