Two In Five Patients Have Experienced 'Fat Bias' Within NHS, Survey Finds

'You feel worthless and come away feeling very depressed.'

Two in five people say they have experienced ‘fat bias’ from within the NHS, according to a new survey.

The findings, released to coincide with new BBC documentary ‘Obesity: How Prejudiced is the NHS?’, found that a significant proportion of people had experienced negative attitudes from parts of the NHS because of their weight.

One person said doctors always linked their health issues, regardless of what they were, back to their weight, which made them reluctant to go back and see them.

Another said they’d been made to feel “lazy” by medical staff.

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As part of the documentary, which airs on BBC 2 on 11 April at 9pm, Professor Rachel Batterham, head of the obesity services at University College Hospital and a research scientist, explored whether there is ‘fat prejudice’ against obese patients within parts of the NHS that is stopping them accessing a potentially cost effective surgery, even when recent scientific research supports it.

Professor Batterham said she considers obesity to be a disease that needs specialist treatment, including weight-loss surgery, whereas many others contend that it is a lifestyle choice.

As such, she met with several NHS patients who were denied life-changing bariatric surgery and other routine operations.

According to the NHS, bariatric surgery is a surgical procedure and “should only be considered for selected patients where the full range of other weight management approaches have been considered, with expert support, but have not been successful”.

Professor Batterham also spoke to others who have tried to use the NHS weight management services, with one admitting it actually resulted in her gaining two stone.

From a survey of 993 people, 43% agreed that they had experienced ‘fat bias’, with one person saying they were treated as a “second class citizen by the NHS”.

One quarter (25%) of participants said their GPs had referred them to NHS weight management or healthy living services.

Nearly a fifth (18%) said they had been refused a NHS service due to their weight, which included a range of procedures from fertility treatment, knee and hip operations, hernia removal, kidney transplant and treatment for varicose veins.

Several respondents said GPs and nurses would always refer back to their weight when discussing medical conditions.

One individual said: “No matter what ailment I go to my GP with - my skin condition or my back problem - she always brings it right back to my weight.”

Another added: “[I] Feel like I won’t get any further with any medical issues because of my weight.”

“Dismissive attitudes” from medical staff also arose as an issue. One person said health professionals treated them “as if they didn’t understand things” and added: “You feel worthless and come away feeling very depressed.”

In response to the survey’s findings, an NHS England spokesperson told The Huffington Post UK: “Ultimately these are legally decisions for Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), but informed by best evidence and national guidance where appropriate.”

Tackling obesity and diabetes is one of the biggest healthcare challenges of our time and the number of people being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes are rising.

The NHS launched a ‘Healthier You’ programme to help promote awareness of, and ultimately prevent, diabetes. As of now, it offers services across half of the country and by 2020 expects that up to 100,000 people a year will be referred and offered intensive support to help avoid developing Type 2 diabetes.

‘Obesity: How Prejudiced is the NHS?’ airs on BBC Two at 9pm on Tuesday 11 April.