Portrait of tired young male general practitioner covering ears. Caucasian medic wearing glasses, lab coat and stethoscope with closed eyes. Do not want to hear concept

My GP won’t take my weight problem seriously

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Since 1993, obesity levels have increased in the U.K. from 14.9% to 28.7%, and the percentage of adults who are either overweight or obese has risen to 64.3% (House of Commons Library Obesity Statistics). This has fuelled a rise in cases of obesity related health problems such as type 2 diabetes, as well as heart disease, fatty liver disease and cancer. To be classed as obese your BMI must be 30 or over – and inevitably, the higher your BMI, the more you are at risk. Although weight loss surgery may seem like a logical solution to this, it can be harder than you might think to be eligible.

There are millions of people in the UK that would benefit from weight loss surgery through the NHS, but only a fraction actually get it. Alongside other factors, there are certain criteria that must be met before being eligible, including a BMI of over 35 and proof that you’ve tried all other methods of weight loss. Furthermore, as the cost of surgery continues to go up, the prospect of having a procedure on the NHS is fading. The NHS is fast becoming focused on emergency care and cancer treatments, rapidly leaving weight loss surgery to be only available through private providers.

Although this is the case, the benefits of surgery don’t just stop at losing weight, type 2 diabetes can be massively reduced as a result.

The health benefits of weight loss surgery are so great that it should be considered as part of the treatment for obese diabetics. The earlier you have the surgery in your diabetes course, then the more likely you are to have remission or a really good improvement.

If we look at the latest report of bariatric surgery done in the UK, there were 4,000 patients with type 2 diabetes who had surgery. Of them, 65 per cent were no longer on any diabetes medications 2 years later.

Dr Rachel Batterham, Head of Obesity and Bariatric Services at University London Hospital Trust
Obesity high street UK

The healthcare savings from just the diabetes drugs alone pays for the surgery itself in 2 to 3 years’ time, so why aren’t more people having it?

The harsh reality is that you’re very unlikely to be offered surgery through the NHS due to lack of financial and practical resources. And to be considered in the first place, you’d have to get a GP referral, then go through a 6-12 month weight loss programme before making it on to a surgeons waiting list. It is possible to get a referral for specialist care from your GP but whether this is accessible depends on what your GP feels is clinically necessary in your case.

Your GP generally understands your health history and treatments better than anyone and will base any decision for a specialist referral on this knowledge. Even still, if you ask your GP to refer you, they will probably suggest that you first try various tests or treatment options to see whether your condition improves.

So, getting a weight loss procedure via the NHS is unlikely. The best advice we can give to improve your odds of being eligible is to attempt to lose weight via conventional methods and be able to prove these attempts have failed. This ultimately would mean keeping a food diary and/or records of your weight. GPs will try to push you down a similar route with whatever programme is available in the area, so if you can prove you’ve tried such methods in the past this might be enough to award you with at least a consultation with a surgeon. If being granted surgery continues to feel like a tireless task, then perhaps it’s time to explore the opportunity of a much faster weight loss procedure with a specialist private provider.

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