Unveiled on Monday, the new obesity strategy says that GP practices will be incentivised to ensure people who are overweight receive weight loss support from next year.
Earlier this month NICE ran a consultation on a number of new indicators that could be included in the QOF, two of which would reward practices for the proportion of adult patients they refer to a weight management programme (see box below).
The obesity strategy suggests that NHS England will push for these to be included in the QOF from April 2021 in contract negotiations. It says: 'From 2021, we will work with the BMA and NICE to implement incentives for doctors through the QOF to ensure everyone living with obesity are offered support for weight loss.'
Weight loss programmes
GPs have previously raised concerns about the lack of availability of weight loss programmes, however the government announced plans to expand NHS weight management services as part of the strategy.
This will include developing more apps and online tools for people with obesity-related conditions and accelerating the roll out of the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme. A free NHS 12-week weight loss app will also be launched.
The strategy says that local authorities will be encouraged 'to expand their provision and where these services are not available doctors can guide people to the free NHS 12-week plan, which we will develop and enhance over time drawing on new insights about what works'.
Primary care staff will also be able to access training from Public Health England to become 'healthy weight coaches', the government said, which will be provided via primary care networks. Meanwhile, GPs will be encouraged to prescribe exercise and other activities to help people improve their fitness.
Obesity and COVID-19
Today's announcement follows publication of a report by Public Health England at the end of last week, which confirmed that being excessively overweight or obese increases the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19.
According to one study cited in the report, the risk of death from COVID-19 increases by 40% in people with a BMI between 35 and 40 and by 90% for those with a BMI of over 40, compared with people who have a healthy weight.
The report said that the pandemic had 'brought the health crisis caused by overweight and obesity to the fore' and concluded that 'reducing excess weight could help reduce the risk of severe COVID-19 illness'.
However it warned that targeted actions would be needed to 'support change in groups disproportionately affected by obesity, and its causes, including people in the country’s most deprived socio-economic groups'.
Almost two-thirds of adults in England are overweight and one in three children leave primary school overweight or obese. Estimates suggest that obesity-related illness costs the NHS £6bn a year.
As part of the new obesity strategy Public Health England is launching a new 'Better Health' campaign, which will encourage people to lead healthier lives and promote tools and apps that will help them lose weight.
Other measures include new rules on calorie labelling in cafes and restaurants and on alcohol, restrictions on 'buy one get one free' offers on unhealthy foods and a ban advertising of unhealthy foods on TV and online before 9pm.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said: 'Losing weight is hard but with some small changes we can all feel fitter and healthier. If we all do our bit, we can reduce our health risks and protect ourselves against coronavirus – as well as taking pressure off the NHS.'
The BMA said the strategy was a chance for the country to make healthier changes for the long term.
BMA Board of Science chair Professor Dame Parveen Kumar said the COVID-19 pandemic had been a 'wake-up call' for the nation. She added: 'It’s imperative that we use this opportunity to make changes for good, not only for society today, but also for generations to come.
'What we need now is for this strategy to be actioned as quickly as possible, with the promised expansion of NHS services delivered in full, with adequate resources and funding, to ensure that those struggling with their weight can get the support they need and deserve – both now and long after the pandemic is over.'
NICE consulted on the following two indicators for obesity this month: