GPs can lead the fight against obesity

GPs must be willing to challenge patients about their weight to tackle soaring obesity rates, a leading GPSI has claimed.

The NHS reforms are a 'fantastic opportunity' to improve care for obese patients but GPs need to rethink their role in prevention, according to Professor David Haslam, chairman of the National Obesity Forum and a GPSI in obesity.

At the Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum obesity conference in London last week, Professor Haslam said: 'GPs see their role as management and others' as prevention.

'We need to educate and inform GPs and commissioners so the reforms are an opportunity and not a threat.'

He added that the QOF register of obese patients does little to encourage preventive medicine.

Obesity is set to cost the NHS more than £6 billion per year by 2015. Bariatric surgery has been shown to be cost effective within two years and can help to cut this cost, Professor Haslam argued.

But, as GP reported in September last year, more than half of PCTs do not follow NICE or SIGN guidance on bariatric surgery, often raising BMI thresholds for entitlement to cut costs.

Professor Haslam said GP commissioners must look long term and consider such preventive measures to reduce complications including diabetes and heart disease.

Although the NHS reforms will release GPs from the 'shackles of PCTs', consortia must not just maintain the status quo, he warned. 'If GP consortia decide to use the same commissioning techniques, we will see less bariatric surgery,' he said.

Government adviser Harry Rutter, director of the National Obesity Observatory, told the conference children towards the lower end of the BMI range have higher values than the same group two decades ago, showing the problem is population-wide.

'If we only focus on people at the top end of the distribution curve, we miss the point that everyone is getting bigger,' he said.

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