Unison Condemns NHS ‘Health Rationing’

GMB Acting General Secretary PAUL KENNY speaking to a delegation of Gate Gourmet workers lobbying the TUC on November  2nd
GMB Acting General Secretary PAUL KENNY speaking to a delegation of Gate Gourmet workers lobbying the TUC on November 2nd

Britain’s biggest public sector union, UNISON yesterday condemned the decision of three Suffolk Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) to deny operations to overweight patients.

‘It’s against the NHS principle of free healthcare for everyone at point of need.

‘Free healthcare should be available for all,’ a UNISON spokesman told News Line yesterday.

The British Medical Association (BMA) warned that things will get worse under Blair’s planned ‘market based NHS’.

Dr Jonathan Fielden, deputy chairman of the BMA’s consultants’ committee, said: ‘It is likely that these situations will become more prevalent as market based healthcare is introduced to the NHS.’

He added: ‘The decisions on whether patients should receive treatment should always be based on clinical need and not solely financial reasons.

‘NHS trusts must balance the level of services they offer with the amount of funding that they have available.

‘Clinical guidelines are often drawn up to ensure patients receive safe, high quality, appropriate treatment but there must be a facility to consider each case individually.’

Due to financial pressures, the three Suffolk PCTs have ruled that patients with a body mass index (BMI) over 30 will not get joint operations like hip and knee replacements.

A person of average weight would have a BMI of between 18.5 and 24.9.

GP Dr David Haslam, the clinical director of the National Obesity Forum, was alarmed by the level being set at a BMI of 30.

He said: ‘This level condemns a quarter of the population to misery – there’s a huge number of people with a BMI of over 30.

‘The argument that the life of joints is reduced because people are overweight is more relevant to those with a BMI of above 40.

‘But I think that the trusts would be better off treating obesity or getting people to lose weight rather than introducing a blanket ban.’

A spokeswoman for the Patients Association also condemned the Suffolk move, saying: ‘People who are obese need education and help about healthy living.

‘To deny someone surgery because they are obese, unless there is a clinical reason, is unfair.’

Hospital consultants and GPs in East Suffolk came up with a list of ten conditions – including varicose veins and grommets for glue ear in children – for which there must be a threshold in order for surgery to be performed.

Dr Brian Keeble, a director of Ipswich PCT, admitted: ‘We cannot pretend that this work wasn’t stimulated by pressing financial problems.’

Surgery will not be performed unless ‘the patient has a body mass index below 30 and conservative means have failed to alleviate the patient’s pain and disability’, say the guidelines.

They add: ‘Pain and disability should be sufficiently significant to interfere with the patient’s daily life and/or ability to sleep.’