Surgeons revolt against NHS weight-loss lottery

Bariatric surgery is only recognised clinical answer to morbid obesity
Bariatric surgery is only recognised clinical answer to morbid obesity

By staff

Weight loss surgeons have attacked the NHS' "unethical" approach to providing the surgery, citing the existence of an unfair postcode lottery.

Those with a body mass index over 40 - the morbidy obese - are entitled to treatment under the NHS.

Surgeons believe operations, including those which restrict appetite by introducing a gastric band, are the best clinical solution available. But because only 4,300 NHS weight-loss operations took place last year, compared to the 240,000 people wanting surgery, they believe the commitment is unfair.

At a conference of bariatric surgeons held at the Royal College of Surgeons of England today, senior surgeons described access to weight-loss surgery on the NHS as "inconsistent, unethical and completely dependent on geographical location".

Some primary care trusts are refusing to commission any obesity surgery, they claimed, while different centres offer different eligibility criteria.

"National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines are meant to signal the end of postcode lotteries, yet local commissioning groups are choosing not to deliver on obesity surgery," Professor Mike Larvin said.

"In many regions the threshold criteria are being raised to save money in the short term meaning patients are being denied life-saving and cost effective treatments and effectively encouraged to eat more in order to gain a more risky operation further down the line."

The Department of Health said its Change4Life campaign appeared to be succeeding in reducing childhood obesity, with the government's main focus on preventing obesity in the first place.

A spokesperson said: "Independent guidance on obesity from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommends that drugs and surgery should always be a last resort.

"It is up to NHS locally to decide the best types of treatments to provide for people in their communities and treating patients with drugs or recommending surgery is rightly a clinical decision - a healthier diet and more activity should be tried first."


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