<< Back to News
ObesityJun 26, 2024

People needing specialist weight-loss services in England miss out as ICBs tighten their belts

One integrated care board (ICB) in six in England has stopped accepting new patients for specialist weight management services as their referral numbers spiral out of control.

That is one of the findings from an investigation conducted by lead clinical news reporter Elisabeth Mahase that is published in The BMJ today (27 June).

At least seven out of 42 ICBs across the country – covering Manchester, Bristol, Suffolk, Leicester, Essex, and much of Yorkshire – have had to close a specialist (tier 3) weight management service list in their area, with many warning that demand is far exceeding capacity.

Experts have said the rise in obesity and the demand for weight-loss injections may be fuelling the increase in referrals, but they blame a lack of consistent government policy for hindering the ability of weight management services to keep up with the growing demand.

Across England, over two thirds (64 per cent) of adults are estimated to be overweight or obese. But in April 2022, the government pulled its £100 million funding grant for weight management services in England, just a year after it was announced. 

Photo Credit: Shutterstock
In some areas, even tightening the access criteria to services has failed to quell demand

Power Diary
Power Diary

Many services are 'over-subscribed'

Nerys Astbury, associate professor of diet and obesity at the University of Oxford, described the availability of specialist weight management services as ‘unequal and very limited, or completely absent in some regions’. Even those that services do exist are ‘over-subscribed, waiting lists have been capped, or budgetary limitations mean services are at risk of being de-commissioned,’ she noted.

In some areas, even tightening the access criteria has failed to quell demand. For example, Greater Manchester ICB has had to pause referrals to its service in Bolton, while other localities remain open but are struggling. The ICB is now conducting a review of its entire obesity pathway.

David Buck, senior fellow at The King’s Fund, described the government’s record in this area as ‘mixed’. He said a ‘more strategic response' was needed to tackle obesity, including through specialist services.

In the long-run prevention policies, including those to tackle obesity, will be far cheaper than treating the symptoms of ill-health and a new government needs to act decisively [David Buck]

GPs are feeling the pressure

GPs are also feeling the pressure of the obesity crisis. Samuel Parker, a GP and deputy chair of the British Medical Association’s North East Regional Council, is demanding an ‘increase in funding for UK-based weight management services paid for by an increase in the sugar tax’.

Mr Buck said that the increasing obesity crisis and demand for weight-loss services require the government to take ‘bold action’ to help people to live healthier lives – particularly as demand for support far exceeds what local services are set up to offer.

He pointed to recent polling by The King’s Fund which indicated strong public support (65 per cent) for restricting the advertising of unhealthy food and drink, and for the government to require companies to reduce the salt, sugar, and fat in their products (67 per cent) support).

‘In the long-run prevention policies, including those to tackle obesity, will be far cheaper than treating the symptoms of ill-health and a new government needs to act decisively,’ Mr Buck states in the article.

To read the full version of the article – titled Obesity: ICBs close lists for weight management services as demand skyrockets doi: 10.1136/bmj.q1356 – click

Author: Ian A McMillan
Power Diary
Power Diary
<< Back to News
By using our site, you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Cookie Policy and Privacy Policy.