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Weight-loss counselling for patients waiting for non-urgent surgery
Obese patients waiting for non-urgent surgery in Hertfordshire will be given three-months' free weight-loss counselling.
The scheme, which will cost £70 per patient, will see overweight patients to Weight Watchers or Slimming World groups. There is no allocated budget for the scheme, nor maximum number of participants.
This comes after the announcement in January that anyone with a body mass index of more than 35 will have to shift the excess pounds before they can be eligible for operations such as hip and knee replacement, tonsil removal or gall bladder surgery.
A person of five feet and ten inches would need to be 17 stone and ten pounds to have a BMI of 35. A "healthy" BMI is between 20 and 25.
The decision to give away free slimming classes was made by The Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group, a consortium of GPs, which will take over responsibility for buying health services when the country's Primary Care Trusts are scrapped in March 2013.
Dr Nicolas Small, GP and chairman of the group, said: "We know that in most cases, people who are at a healthy weight have better outcomes from surgery than those who are not.
"There is always a risk when patients are given an anaesthetic but there is strong clinical evidence that this risk is significantly higher when they are overweight.
"We are really pleased to be in a position now to offer additional support, over and above that already on offer from GP surgeries."
Nationally, one in four adults is obese, and one in eight is severely overweight. Severely obese people can expect to die an average of eleven years earlier.
An obese person is 15 times more likely to need a hip or knee operation and there were 5,000 of these replacements in West Hertfordshire last year.
Patients eligible to join this pilot scheme, which will last nine months, will receive a referral from their GP and information about which of the two services is best for them.
They will then be able to join a class that is convenient to where they live or work and that fits in around existing commitments.
After 12 weeks the patient can then decide whether to use techniques learned at the classes to lose weight, or to continue to attend, paying for themselves.
There is currently no plan to introduce a similar scheme for seriously underweight patients who are waiting for routine surgery.
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