Personal Injury, Serious Injury & Clinical Negligence

Obese patients – soft targets?

The Royal College of Surgeons has released a report showing that in over 1 in 3 areas of England, patients are denied or delayed routine surgery until they lose weight.

The report was prepared following Freedom of Information requests to Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) throughout England and revealed that 34% of the 200 CCGs that responded have one or more policies on BMI level or smoking status before patients will be referred for routine surgery such as hip and knee replacements. Some CCGs have voluntary policies in which patients are encouraged to lose weight or stop smoking however 22% have mandatory policies.

The RCS believes that such policies are a money saving exercise. Clare Marx President of the RCS states “While it is difficult to categorically prove such policies are aimed at saving money, it is unlikely to be a coincidence that many financially challenged CCGs are restricting access to surgery. Our worry is that smokers and overweight patients are becoming soft targets for NHS savings”.

The chair of East and North Hertfordshire CCG who implement such policies states that patients who are obese or who smoke “take longer to recover and have a higher risk of dying under anaesthetic and therefore patients should not be booked for routine surgery until they have lost enough weight to improve the outcomes of their surgery”.

However, British Orthopaedic Association president Tim Wilton argues, in terms of surgery for hip and knee replacements, there is no clinical or financial justification for refusing to fund such surgery and that “good outcomes can be achieved for patients regardless of whether they smoke or are obese”.

 Banning or delaying treatment on the basis of a patient’s weight or smoking status contravenes the current NICE Guidelines. Without evidence to support such policies from NICE, a medical royal college or other Medical professional association, the practice should not be allowed to continue.

If you have been unnecessarily denied or delayed treatment please do not hesitate to contact our specialist team on 0800 316 8892 who will be able to advise you further.