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Call for obesity specialist in every GP practice

A survey by World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has revealed an overwhelming number of health professionals want an obesity specialist in every GP practice to help tackle the obesity problem. A massive 86% of those asked said they backed the move in a bid to help more people to manage their weight. 

And nearly all those questioned (96%) think there needs to be a standardised national obesity treatment programme based on schemes that have been proven to work.
The questionnaire was carried out as part of the charity's Cancer Prevention Week (21-27 May), which aims to highlight the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle in the fight against cancer. 

Scientific research funded by WCRF shows that up to 40% of cancers could be prevented if people ate a diet rich in plant food, exercised and maintained their weight.

Dr Greg Martin, science and research department manager at WCRF, said: "Although this survey is just a snapshot of health professionals' views, it is another indicator of how serious the obesity problem is in the UK. They clearly believe that much more needs to be done to tackle the crisis."

Despite the large amount of information available to guide people on how to live a healthy lifestyle, obesity has trebled in the last 20 years. It is estimated that treating it costs the NHS £7bn per year. 

Motivation and habit are the main reasons as to why people fail to do this in practice according to the poll. Over 60% of the health professionals questioned believe that people do not see the risk to their health from being obese or overweight.

Dr Martin continued: "The over-riding message coming out of our survey is that healthy lifestyle messages aren't getting through. Unfortunately, there is no magic solution and the best way to maintain a healthy weight is to have a diet that is high in fruit and vegetables and to be active on a daily basis.

"Many people still think that developing cancer is down to 'fate', but this is not the case and many cases of cancer can be prevented. There is clearly still a need to do more to educate people that they can take control of their future health."

Here are a  selection of your comments:

"As a practice nurse I have had some wonderful results from patients losing weight. It comes down to self-motivation, exercise and support. Simple strategies to educate patients can be included. Many are not aware of how to look at labels for hidden fats and sugars" - Carolyn Simpson, Oldham

"We have no more rooms available to add another specialist session to our already busy week. Practice nurses are available and promote healthy eating and exercise, but like stopping smoking, the will to do something about it has got to come from the obese persons themselves. Slimming groups can offer more time and group support. Nurses see people individually with little time, but probably give the first awareness to the patient that they have a problem" - Name and address witheld

"No you don't need one in every surgery but you need some surgeries to specialise in it and accept referrals from neighbouring surgeries. Yes I have a specialist programme which I run for Sure Start locally" - Name and address witheld

"We work in partnership with Slimming World. Patients are given a book of vouchers to attend sessions free. We also run a 16-week healthy eating plan, in which patients attend the surgery weekly to help them change dietry habits and lose weight. We also have a dietitian on site. For those wanting to change lifesyle habits its great. However, the biggest problem is lack of motivation of patients who don't see obesity as a major health issue in their life. (You can take a horse to water, but you can't make him drink!!!)" - Name and address witheld

"If obesity management was one of the GP financial targets, things would change within 12 months. As a practice nurse I offer support and encouragement to all overweight patients but I would welcome more training - and for that to be offered, the GPs need to regard obesity as an immediate priority. Rather than introducing another specialist I think the ]ractice nurses should take on the role with specialist support (and appropriate remuneration for additional responsibilities)." - Name and address witheld

"I have doubts as to whether this would work. Long-term stopping smoking results are not high, and I think long-term results for this would be low - look at how much money is paid by people to Weight Watchers and the NHS specialist would be free!" - Name and address witheld

"PCTs and GP practices should work with commercial slimming organisations to tackle the obesity crisis. Studies have shown that weekly support combined with healthy eating plans and regular activity is the most effective way to achieve weight loss. Busy GP practices don't have time to offer the weekly support that slimming groups like Slimming World can offer with a proven slimming referral service that's already being used by a minority of PCTs and GP practices" - Name and address witheld

"I'm a dietitian working to try and support GP practices to provide weight managment programmes. The main problem is that the condition isnt taken seriously and there is still the attitude that patients have brought obesity on themselves, they should be able to deal with it. But figures show that this is clearly not the case. Staff need specialist training to enable them to provide regular and successful interventions in helping people to change their lifestyles. Most of us know what to eat but there are so many other factors that inform and influence our choices that only specialist interventions can help patients deal with these" - Name and address witheld

"I think every GP should have a specialist, just like a smoking cessation adviser. They should have the same treatment programme and expert advice. We do in our surgery so there is proctected time, contsistency, expert advice and we can gather information to pass on to other patients or staff" - Name and address witheld

"Yes we do need a specialist or team if possible. I often feel overwhelmed by the time I have 'got to the bottom' of why someone eats, then I have to decide how best to help them in 10 minutes. Impossible" - Name and address witheld

"Very difficult unless pts are motivated enough to take part. As with smoking cessation, there are always a lot of "no shows" at the clinics. This would waste time and appts" - Name and address witheld

"Yes, I do think it is a valid idea. I provide weaning advice in my clinic which includes a healthy eating option" - Name and address witheld

"In an ideal world, it would be great to have an obesity specialist in every GP practice but it all comes down to money. Practice nurses should do their best to motivate obese patients to be more active and to eat sensibly" - Name and address witheld

"I think there ought to be an NHS programme for weight monitoring and perhaps PGDs could be brought in to include weight-reducing meds for those whose weight is at a standstill. This way practice nurses would be a resource already in place to assist pts in this area" - Name and address witheld

"Obesity has been recognised a a major problem in our practice for some years, we hold regular weigh ins and have some fantastaic weight losses that have enabled patients to turn their lives around and reduce medications. Although not everyone is successful, it is certainly of benefit. Every practice should have access to dietitian support, it doesn't happen though unless you are a diabetic. Then it's a case of too little too late. Specialist training would be helpful but where is this to be found, who can access it and who funds it? Slimming groups do have a place but again who is going to fund them?" - Name and address witheld

"Yes we do [need an obesity specialist in every practice], it is  a 'big' problem that needs time and empathy from someone who has both - not always the doctor or practice nurse" - Name and address witheld

"I run a weight monitoring clinic at my practice."Fat to Fit" It is
brutally honest and I use the Reductil weight loss programme which has excellent online facilities"
- Name and address witheld

Thank you all very much for your sending us your views.

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