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Cover-up over plans for no-beds hospital

GPs in 13 PCTs have been issued with a blanket ban on referring patients for obesity surgery after hospitals said their 'waiting time guarantees' were at risk.

In a statement, the trusts claimed they were unable to cope with a 'significant increase in referrals' for morbid obesity surgery.

But GPs complained that they were under growing Government pressure to manage obesity more proactively. They warned disputes over referrals would escalate as obesity rose up the political agenda ­ with ministers considering quality points for managing the condition.

The North Derbyshire, South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw Commissioning Consortium has written to GPs in the 13 trusts to inform them that Sheffield teaching hospitals trust will not be able to take any more referrals 'until further notice'.

It said the policy would remain until at least the summer of 2005.

Dr David Jarvis, one of the GPs affected in Retford, Nottinghamshire, said he was 'astounded' by the decision.

'It just struck me as another fix,' he said. 'They are telling us we should be making everybody slim and then they tell us that we can't make referrals.'

Derbyshire LMC secretary Dr John Grenville, a GP in Derby, said: 'Doctors will have to tell their patients this service is not available, and say "If you want to write to your MP that's up to you".

'Do ministers think it's more important to follow the advice in the public health White Paper to treat obesity, or to have commissioning in the NHS determined at a local level?' he said.

A recent report by independent analyst Dr Foster found one in five trusts provided no funding for morbid obesity surgery and that the proportion providing surgery had fallen in the last year.

Dr David Haslam, chair of the National Obesity Forum and a GP in Hertfordshire, said the lack of resources in secondary care was a real problem: 'A heavy burden is left on GPs. You have to have tried everything else, so GPs will be left with no real route to take.'

Dr Gill Jenkins, a GP in Bristol with a special interest in obesity, said: 'Management of morbid obesity is terribly patchy around the country. You can only make it a target if you can give GPs the facility to offer a treatment.'

By Nerys Hairon

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