GP practices should score QOF points for putting overweight patients through weight-loss programmes, Public Health England (PHE) has suggested.
Responding to a House of Commons health committee inquiry into the effect of diet and exercise on health, PHE called for at least £300 million to be invested in addressing the variable provision of weight-management schemes across the UK, with a view to then amending the QOF to provide GP with incentives to refer patients.
The report from the inquiry, published today by the influential group of MPs, also called for GPs to take the lead in encouraging patients to be more physically active, regardless of weight, as this has been proven to reduce or even cure some illnesses.
It quoted PHE’s submission to the inquiry as saying there is ‘an unmet population need for weight loss support and sustaining a healthier weight’ which ‘requires prioritisation’.
The submission said: ‘The health departments in the four nations should together invest at least £100m in each of the next three financial years to extend and increase provision of weight management services across the country, to mirror the provision of smoking cessation services.
‘This should include both early intervention programmes and, greater provision for severe and complicated obesity, including bariatric surgery. Adjustments could then be made to the QOF, providing incentives for GPs to refer patients to such services.’
The news comes with GPs already set to screen millions more people in NHS England’s new national diabetes-prevention strategy, under which at-risk patients could receive free cooking classes and Zumba on prescription as part of a programme set to be rolled out in a year’s time.
In January, a study of primary care records claimed that less than half of morbidly obese patients are given advice or treatment by their GP to help them lose weight. The health committee’s report suggested this could be because there was not enough focus the benefits of physical activity in medical training, with stakeholders recommending this should be addressed.
The MPs’ report concluded: ‘Diet, obesity, and physical activity all have important impacts on health. However, it is vital that the importance of physical activity for all the population — regardless of their weight, age, gender, health, or other factors — is clearly articulated and understood. We recommend that the Government, Public Health England and health professionals, in particular GPs, take urgent action to communicate this crucial message to the public.’
Dr Sarah Wollaston, chair of the health committee and a former GP, said: ‘The extraordinary benefits of exercise in improving physical and mental health should be made clear and accessible to everyone, whatever their current level of fitness. The committee calls on the NHS, local authorities and the next Government to work together to prioritise prevention and public health and we have set out achievable recommendations for action which could help to transform people’s lives and wellbeing.’
The recommendations chime with a recent study from University of East Anglia researchers, which suggested GPs should recommend patients with chronic conditions join a walking group to help them improve their overall health.