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Weight management programme opens to referrals from practices

by Jess Hacker
10 May 2021

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Practices are now able to start referring patients into the NHS Digital weight management programme, NHS England has said.

In a primary care bulletin last week (4 May) NHSE said the ‘early adopter’ phase of the service was ‘an excellent opportunity’ for practices to get used to making referrals.

The service – which offers digital weight management services for patients living with obesity, as well as diabetes, hypertension, or both – will launch in full in the summer, when it is expected to ‘coincide with a proposed GP incentive’, the bulletin said.  

It follows an announcement from the BMA in January that it was entering discussions on the introduction of a new enhanced service on obesity and weight management.

Under the weight management programme, patients are referred by their practice to an online ‘referral hub’ and offered one of three levels of intervention. Once triaged, the patient can then choose a provider offering a 12-week digital service.

In a webinar last week (6 May) Elizabeth Stephenson, joint head of prevention at NHSE, said levels two and three offer extra coaching support, whereas level one is a digital programme only.

The referral hub will triage patients based on four characteristics associated with lower likelihood of completing the Digital Diabetes Prevention Programme: younger age, being from a BAME background, being male, and living in a deprived area.

Dr Stephenson added that service users will receive a text message inviting them to enter some information such as date of birth and ethnicity, before choosing a provider and commencing the course.

‘One of the really important things about this programme is that the commercial providers are required to flow that data back to the referral hub so that the hub can provide a discharge summary back to general practice,’ she said.

She added that the service is currently GP-referral only as evidence suggests self-referral can exacerbate health inequalities, but an option for NHS staff with obesity to self-refer is being considered, with a planned roll-out in late Spring.

A spokesperson for NHS England told Management in Practice that there was no further information available on the proposed GP incentive at this time.