Slimming classes for obese patients

DOCTORS in Suffolk will start referring seriously overweight patients to Slimming World after new figures revealed obesity was costing the NHS £17.5 million in the county.

By John Howard

DOCTORS in Suffolk will start referring seriously overweight patients to Slimming World after new figures revealed obesity was costing the NHS £17.5 million in the county.

The NHS will pay for 12 sessions for each person referred to the weight-loss organisation, and argued last night that the move made economic sense.

Health professionals say obese people suffer from health problems including diabetes, heart disease, and joint problems.

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The scheme has been trialled in mid Suffolk and was such a success it will now be rolled out across the rest of Suffolk.

So far, 17 practices in east Suffolk have taken up the offer and it is expected that some others will do so. The scheme is also accessible through four practices in the Waveney PCT area and it will be available in the west of the county from early October.

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It follows successful schemes piloted by Stow Health and Combs Ford surgeries in Stowmarket.

Norman Foster, acting consultant in the public health team with Suffolk East PCTs, said the venture made economic sense as obesity costs an average PCT around £3.5 million a year -£17.5 million across Suffolk.

He said: “We know that obesity is actively detrimental to people's lives, they do not live as long and do not enjoy the same quality of life.

“Obesity is estimated to directly cost a PCT £3.5 million a year, in extra visits to the GP, physiotherapy treatment, clinicians, seeing the nurse, as well as from people having heart attacks and needing inpatient treatment, which is very expensive.

“Patients have responded excellently to this idea. At the end of the course all those people who have taken part fill in a questionnaire and the vast majority are saying what a good idea this is and how much they enjoyed it.

“The initiatives that work are the ones that people enjoy and going to Slimming World is a social occasion for people as well.”

In the pilot scheme, he said most people who went on the course stayed on it and stuck with it after the subsidised course. Almost half of people going on the course for the 12 weeks lost at least 5% of their body weight.

News of the latest initiative comes after the East Anglian Daily Times launched a campaign to raise awareness and understanding of childhood obesity.

Our investigation has highlighted an alarming lack of investment in PE equipment by schools during the past two years, with an average of just £8.50 spent on each pupil, compared to more than £90 per pupil spent on IT.

The PCTs say that they are now talking to other commercial slimming organisations with a view to offering patients choice.

SUE Evans had been struggling to control high blood pressure, was unhappy about her weight, and worried about her family history of breast cancer.

“Whenever I visited my GP in Bury St Edmunds, he would tell me to lose weight, but whenever I asked for help, he'd say, eat less and exercise more. I knew what I ought to do, but it was so difficult without any help”.

Then the Evans family moved to Stowmarket and a new GP. When the conversation about needing to lose weight came up, Sue said she needed help - and the pilot scheme was there to try out.

“I was amazed when the doctor asked me if I wanted to be referred to Slimming World and told me about the Slimming on Referral programme. I thought: 'What have I got to lose?' And then I asked if my husband, Brian, could be referred too.”

The doctor referred Sue and Brian for 12 weeks in February 2004. Sue weighed 21 stone and Brian weighed 18 stone 11lbs.

“In those first 12 weeks we both lost about two stone,” says Sue, “and we weren't going to stop there.”

When they reached the end of the 12 week referral the couple carried on attending their Slimming World group with consultant Bev Smith.

“Slimming on Referral is brilliant. It's not a diet. It's not a quick fix. It's a way of life. When we were referred the time was right, we were in the right frame of mind.

“It's become our normal way of living now. We like the way we eat and the way we exercise. This is the best I've ever felt and health-wise, I feel brilliant.

“It's all about preparation and about making food from scratch, not having ready-made foods.

“For us, it's not the kind of foods that we eat that has changed; it's more the methods of preparation. My 16-year-old daughter eats the way we eat and says that she'll eat like this forever. I'm so pleased that she's happy and knows how to eat healthily to manage her weight.”

Both Sue and Brian have joined the gym and each goes at least five or six times a week. They hardly ever visit their GP any more.

“In fact the last time I went to the doctor, they didn't recognise me,” said Sue. “I used to have to go regularly to have my blood pressure monitored, but not anymore. In fact the last time I had it checked it was a little on the low side. We don't even seem to get colds and flu so much anymore.”

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