NHS faces increasing costs caused by rising obesity

Britain’s healthcare system will need to adapt significantly to meet the demands of an increasingly obese nation, a major new report from the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has concluded.

The Action on obesity report argues that while health promotion campaigns and other preventative measures remain important when it comes to stemming rising levels of obesity nationwide, the NHS needs to get much better at managing the large numbers of patients presenting with severe obesity and the complex range of conditions that accompany it.

The rate of obesity in the UK is among the highest in the world, exceeded only by the US, the college said. Approximately a quarter of UK adults are obese, and it is estimated the majority of Britain’s population will be obese by 2050. The cost of dealing with the adverse consequences of obesity has been estimated to be £5 billion per year.

An RCP working party found that, in addition to the strain put on the NHS by obesity, the delivery of healthcare to patients with an established obesity problem was “extremely patchy”.

There were large variations in the way obesity was treated across the country, with the rate of hospital bariatric procedures – for example, gastric banding – ranging from 0.4 per 100,000 individuals in some primary care trusts to 41.3 per 100,000 in others.

Similarly, while it was recognised that obesity can lead to complications such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, sleep disorders and gynaecological disorders, there were few “joined-up” services for people who are overweight.

Professor John Wass, chair of the working party and academic vice-president of the RCP, said: “Britain is getting bigger, and while we try to prevent the increase in obesity we must also prepare the NHS for the influx of patients presenting with severe and complex obesity.”

The report recommended the appointment of a lead physician for obesity at every hospital trust.

In addition, it also suggested that multidisciplinary teams made up of physicians, surgeons, nurses and other healthcare professionals should be made available to cover severe and complex obesity throughout the UK.

The report also stated that GPs should, where possible and appropriate, deal with weight issues as part of their agenda to address risk factors.

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