Obesity spending rises seven-fold

Exclusive - One in four PCTs have turned down patients' requests for bariatric surgery.

One in six PCTs has increased spending on fighting obesity by more than seven-fold over the past three years, but leading experts have warned that obese patients are still being denied effective treatment.

Overall, half of all PCTs have increased their obesity budget, but many are having to spend thousands of pounds on bariatric couches, scales and oversized BP cuffs instead of preventive measures, as the obesity epidemic grows.

The findings were revealed after GP obtained data from 60 PCTs under the Freedom of Information Act.

All of the PCTs stated that tackling the obesity epidemic was a key priority, with half confirming that they are now treating more patients for obesity then they had done in the previous two years.

But a quarter of PCTs reported having to turn down requests for bariatric surgery. Some reported a growing number of patients desperate to lose weight but who failed to fulfil NICE criteria for surgery.

Dr David Haslam, a GP in Hertfordshire and clinical director of the National Obesity Forum, questioned whether the increase was being spent on obesity services.

'PCTs have a habit of claiming to support weight loss clinics, based on a meagre history of half-baked, barely supported efforts. A PCT can claim effective weight management if only one clinic has been set up.'

Tam Fry, chairman of the Child Growth Foundation, said: 'Obesity is now so great that this level of PCT spending is necessary just to make inroads into the problem.

'But this kind of spending cannot be sustained and could go on to cripple the NHS.

'This is a wake-up call for PCTs to put preventive measures in place.'

Dr Haslam added that PCTs were turning down requests for bariatric surgery not because patients were failing to meet NICE criteria but to cut costs.

'PCTs are in the habit of adding extra barriers and hurdles over and above NICE.

'PCTs are delighted to find any excuse to turn down bariatric surgery, despite the fact that it is among the most clinically effective, and cost-effective procedures in any field of medicine.'

His comments were echoed by Dr Matt Capehorn, a GPSI in obesity from Rotherham, South Yorkshire, who told delegates at the Tackling Obesity conference in central London last month, that PCTs were failing to fund bariatric surgery let alone refer patients for it.

sanjay.tanday@haymarket.com

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