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Obese patients putting strain on health services

11 April 2007

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Up to 90% of patients visiting Britain’s primary care surgeries are overweight or obese, and the cost of treating them could account for the majority of the drugs budget.

This is one of the results from a survey carried out by the NHS Trusts Association and obesity specialist LighterLife.

More than 200 practice managers and GPs responded, and their answers painted a picture of overweight patients using up a large percentage of the primary care budget, and few real solutions to this problem.

Respondents reported that:

  • Up to 90% of their patients are overweight or obese.
  • Nearly a fifth of surgeries have more overweight patients than the national average.
  • The higher the percentage of overweight patients, the greater the cost. Up to 90% of drugs budgets go on treating obesity and weight-related problems.
  • For many practices, the costs are a disproportionate drain on resources – some said 20% of patients drained 40% of the drugs budget; for others, the balance was 30/60.

When asked if they had any obesity-combating initiatives, most were unable to answer.

Almost all GPs give advice in the surgery, and 70% see “drugs”, “guidance to patients” and “educational materials” as important.

Only one in eight practice managers reported that they had therapists to help deal with obesity, yet many have them for other problems, such as depression, family bereavement, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder.

A spokesman for the NHS Trusts Association said: “The survey reveals that the true impact on health is even more shocking than anyone had thought. It is clear that there is a real correlation between obesity and medication, which not only affects public health, but is using up money which could more valuably be allocated elsewhere.

“Although practice managers didn’t see a solution, and drugs have their place, a worrying 12% said they also used surgery as an option, which adds risk to the situation.

“It would be good to see more innovative ways to address the problem – after all, the House of Commons Health Select Committee on Obesity in 2004 pointed out that there is a psychological and behavioural element involved.”

Juliette duPlessis, medical director for LighterLife, said: “It’s particularly revealing that while only a small proportion of practices use counsellors for weight loss, many choose them for a range of other emotional issues, including addiction.

“And yet, for many obese people, food is just that – an addiction. For them, cutting down on food is as difficult as reducing intake for smokers and those with an alcohol problem.”The good news, though, is that some practices who offer counselling for weight loss are actually saving money, as they reported the smallest drugs spend on obesity.”