Overweight St Albans patients must slim for surgery

VERY overweight patients in the St Albans district will have to lose weight before they can be listed for non-urgent surgery.

GPs who are part of the new Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group which includes those in St Albans, Harpenden and the villages, have decided that for health reasons they will not list patients for routine surgery until they have lost weight.

The commissioning group is believed to be the first in the country to take such a step.

Dr Nicholas Small, chair of the commissioning group which will become responsible for contracting health services on behalf of local people when primary care trusts are abolished in April 2013, explained: “There are a number of things that contribute to the success of a procedure carried out under anaesthetic. An important one of these is to be a healthy weight and another is to be a non smoker.

“There is always a risk when patients are given an anaesthetic but there is strong clinical evidence that proves that this risk is significantly higher whey they are overweight and if they smoke.

“These patients are much more likely to suffer serious breathing problems, get infections, have heart, kidney and lung complications.

“It also takes them longer to recover and they have a higher risk of dying under anaesthetic.

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“So for these health reasons GPs in this area will not list patients for routine surgery until they have lost weight.”

Dr Small said a relatively small weight loss could reduce the risks of surgery quite dramatically but in the long term, the more weight people lost would reduce the risk of contracting serious conditions ranging from diabetes, heart disease and strokes to cancer and liver problems.

He also pointed out that being overweight had a significant effect on life expectancy with severely obese people likely to die an average of 11 years earlier than those with a healthy weight.

He added: “These measures are for people who need routine (planned) surgery only. They do not apply when people need urgent or emergency surgery such as to treat cancer. There will also be times when it will be appropriate to offer surgery to a patient without following these measures.”

As well as requiring patients to lose weight before routine surgery, GPs will also ask smokers to attend an appointment with a specialist stop smoking adviser who will explain the support that is available to help them quit.

The specialist will make sure that the patient is fully aware of all the benefits of becoming a non-smoker and the particular risks that surgery presents for people who smoke.