Will the NHS pay for my weight loss surgery?

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Obesity is a problem that continues to worsen in the UK. Statistics published on the 6th August 2019 revealed that 28.7% of adults in England are obese and a further 35.6% are overweight but not obese. Obesity is usually defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above, and a BMI between 25 and 30 is classified as overweight. In 2007 the NHS carried out 12,000 weight loss procedures, yet in 2018, that figure has been sliced to a mere 4,500. It is widely argued that weight loss surgery will pay for itself in 2 to 3 years, so as the problem gets bigger, why is it becoming less and less likely that you will be eligible for weight loss surgery on the NHS?

It’s no myth that the NHS lacks resources in every area of healthcare, and for this reason it’s becoming increasingly difficult to meet the specific criteria laid out by the NHS to be eligible for weight loss surgery. After being able to prove that you’ve exhausted all other methods of weight loss, you would have to get a GP referral, then go through a 6-12 month weight loss programme before eventually making it on to a surgeons waiting list. A process which would likely take 18 months at the very least. it’s no surprise that the NHS is fast becoming focused on emergency care and cancer treatments, leaving weight loss surgery evermore inaccessible.

The irony is that as the obesity problem continues to grow, surgery done on the NHS would pay for itself in 2 to 3 years’ time by saving money on drugs to treat obesity related health problems, such as type 2 diabetes or hypertension. This begs the question, is there more to the problem than just lack of resources?

Many people still blame obesity on the patients themselves, and it’s all too common to hear that someone is obese through their lack of ‘willpower’. Perhaps putting it down to a lack of resources is only scratching the surface of what the real problem is, and the argument is much more political than meets the eye. Could the NHS be accused of showing prejudice towards the clinically obese?

The ‘fat shaming’ debate has re-surfaced once again and in spite of the fact that most weight loss surgery patients have tried everything, this doesn’t translate to much sympathy amongst the ‘slim’ population. With that being said, according to a recent report by top psychologists, “obesity is not a choice and making people feel ashamed results only in them feeling worse about themselves.” In reality, obesity is more to do with our genes than our environment and attitude. The evidence shows that some people are more genetically challenged than others when it comes to developing and following the behaviours needed to maintain a healthy weight. 

Weight loss surgery is at present the best long-term treatment for obesity, especially for groups with a BMI above 40. However, when politicians are forced to make hard choices about how to spend the NHS budget, they prioritise other things. As a result, it’s highly unlikely that the NHS will pay for your surgery. If you’re thinking of having a procedure you are likely to have to go private. You will have to pay, but it will be a much quicker process without having to jump through the hoops of eligibility.

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