Obese patients could sue NHS for discrimination

Lawyers have warned local health authorities that they risk being sued if they discriminate against obese patients.

New restrictions introduced by NHS managers across the country can limit an obese patient’s access to treatment unless they modify their lifestyles.

A nationwide Freedom of Information request by the medical magazine Pulse revealed many types of surgery, MRI scans and IVF treatment are being withheld from obese people and smokers.

In the ITV Anglia region NHS Bedfordshire has barred obesepatients from hip and knee surgery until they loss 10% of their weight or theirBody Mass Index drops below 35.

NHS North Essex requires patients to lose at least 5% oftheir weight, and keep it off for 6 months.

NHS Hertfordshire patients must have a BMI under 30 and smokers have to attend a stop smoking course to have any type of surgery.

Keith Jones, Head of Litigation at Bedford solicitors Woodfines, says NHS trustscould find themselves in dangerous territory.

“A court may decide a person’s obesity is caused by amedical condition and that may mean they are disabled.

"If you are disabled youhave equality rights under current legislation, so the court could say thesepeople are being discriminated against on the basis of their disability, ratherthan because they happen to be obese or heavy smokers.

"There could cases goingto court where there’s a huge argument between various medical experts aboutwhat has caused the obesity."

Ben Troke, partner at Browne Jacobson agrees. He warned therestrictions would have to be drafted carefully “to avoid having anydiscriminatory effect, in appearance or reality, on any particular groups insociety".

He added: "The public-sector equality duty, under s149 of the Equality Act 2010,would apply to Clinical Commissioning Groups in just the same way as itcurrently applies to Primary Care Trusts."

Craig Lister, Public Health Manager for NHS Bedfordshiresays its policy is about working towards the best outcome for the patient.

He said: “We offer people a range of programmes to help them loseweight, including our own schemes or even referrals to Weight Watchers. Theoutcome from them is very good. It creates a lower risk during the operationand better results afterwards."

Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of GPs believessuch policies are unfair.

“It's becoming the deserving and the undeserving," he said. "Ithink it's discriminatory and I find it astonishing. The Government should determine what should be applied universally."