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Last Updated: Monday, 14 June, 2004, 00:05 GMT 01:05 UK
Underfunded obesity centres close
Concern over obesity is growing
Several top obesity centres in the UK have closed their doors to new patients because they have run out of money, the BBC has learned.

At a time when national concern about obesity is growing, one surgeon has an unofficial waiting list of five years.

Doctors say the situation will cost the NHS in the long term because many obesity patients will develop diseases that are more expensive to treat.

The NHS has been criticised by MPs for failing to cope with the obesity boom.

There is no doubt that obesity is perceived as being less important and less worthy of treatment.
Dr Nick Finer
A recent health select committee report described its serious failings, including badly trained doctors, not enough specialists and far too few centres for treating obesity.

However, since the MPs took evidence the situation has worsened, a report for Radio 4's Today programme has found.

Two of the leading obesity centres in the UK at Leeds and Nottingham have run out of funds and closed their waiting lists.

Serious complications

The Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham is only taking on obese patients who have developed serious complications such as diabetes or heart disease which are more difficult to treat than the obesity itself.

The centre's obesity clinic has been operating on research funds without a proper budget, and that money has now run out.

At Portsmouth, a top centre for obesity surgery, administrators have restricted the number of operations to eight a year and the surgeon has five years worth of patients waiting for operations.

At Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge the obesity clinic is being run on research funding and cannot offer operations at all - even to patients whose life is threatened by their weight.

Dr Nick Finer, a consultant at the clinic, said: "There is no doubt that obesity is perceived as being less important and less worthy of treatment.

"I had hoped the reports that had come out from eminent bodies like the World Health Organization and the House of Commons Health Select Committee would have changed those prejudices, but I am not convinced those prejudices have been changed."

The government says the National Institute for Clinical Excellence is drawing up guidance for a complete overhaul of obesity services but this will take several years before it is fully implemented.

Melanie Johnson, the public health minister, said she had not heard of problems with access to existing clinics, but would investigate.

She said moves were under way to increase the number of healthcare workers specialising in obesity, but training would take time.

However, she said it was for primary care trusts to ensure adequate services at a local level.

Paul Burstow, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: "These closures show that the government is not serious about tackling obesity.

"The complacency of health ministers wholly undermines their approach to the obesity crisis.

"Whilst the key is to deal with the causes of obesity there is still a need to invest in services that provide treatment and support."


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