Doctors should lose weight to set an example, says Simon Stevens

Overweight doctors and nurses should be 'incentivised' to lose weight and set a good example to patients, the NHS England chief executive has said.

Simon Stevens: Incentivise NHS staff to lose weight
Simon Stevens: Incentivise NHS staff to lose weight

Simon Stevens told The Sun that he envisioned staff members engaging in weight loss competitions, and being offered 'positive incentives' to lose weight.

His comments come just months after chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies told GP that she was 'perpetually surprised' at the high proportion of overweight NHS staff, and that doctors should be expected to maintain a healthy weight.

According to The Sun, over half (54%) of NHS staff – around 700,000 out of 1.3m – are overweight or obese.

Mr Stevens told the newspaper: ‘It’s hard for the NHS to talk about how important this is if we don’t get our own act together. I think the NHS has got to take an example in helping our own staff and hopefully other employers will follow suit.

‘The NHS as an employer, for our own nurses and other staff, could we offer positive incentives? Yes I think we could.’

He added that people at the ‘frontline of healthcare’ needed to ‘raise their game’ to set a better example. ‘What’s great about the NHS can't excuse what needs to change about the NHS,’ he said.

Hypocritical health advice

In May, CMO Dame Sally told GP it was only ‘human nature’ for patients to question what could be construed as hypocritical health advice from such doctors.

A GP poll at the time revealed that 58% of readers agreed with her that GPs should be expected to maintain a healthy weight.

‘I just think it makes it more difficult to get the message over,’ said Dame Sally. ‘How are they going to have the impact on patients if they are not taking note and thinking about it for themselves?’

She also suggested that the NHS was ‘not supporting [its staff] enough to lose weight’.

Workload to blame

One commenter on GPonline said ‘overwhelming’ GP workloads made it difficult for GPs to find time or energy to lose weight.

The GP said: ‘GPs are sitting at their desks for 15 hours a day because of their intense, overwhelming workload. A trip to the toilet is a luxury and lunch at their desks whilst working the norm. There is no space in the day for physical activity.’

But another said it was ‘disingenuous’ to pile all the blame on workload. ‘I think to say that GPs are so busy as to be unable to do any exercise and that our workload is such that we can be excused from looking after ourselves is disingenuous,' the respondent said.

‘If you don't have the motivation to exercise, that's fair enough, […] but I do think it's not right to blame the work for a default choice not to do any exercise. If there's a will, there's definitely a way.’

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