12 July 2021

Commentary on the King's Fund Report on Obesity

“There is more that the NHS can and should be doing to tackle obesity.” 

This was one of the key findings of the King’s Fund report into Tackling obesity: The role of the NHS in a whole-systems approach, published earlier this month.

Acknowledging that successive governments have taken a “fragmented approach” towards tackling obesity, the report explores the role that the health and care system can play in addressing the issue, with a focus on how the NHS can work with local partners and communities to deliver targeted interventions.

The stark inequalities in obesity levels across the country are laid bare, and the report shows a significant increase in obesity in the most deprived communities in England and a widening gap between the most and least deprived areas. 

In 2019-20, there were over a million hospital admissions linked to obesity in England, an increase of 17 per cent on the previous year, and obesity-related admissions were 2.4 times higher in the most deprived areas of the country. 

It is clear that a ‘whole systems’ approach to this is required, and that every facet of the healthcare system has a role to play.

In order for this to be achieved, there must be clearly defined routes through which all stakeholders can impart the learnings from their experiences at a local level. This notably includes independent providers, who often have nuanced and wide-ranging understanding of the specific healthcare needs of local populations.

This level of collaboration would serve to support a number of the prevention and treatment measures highlighted in The King’s Fund’s report, which include supporting behaviour change, social prescribing, and treatment pathways. 

It is therefore positive to see that place-based partnerships via integrated care systems are recommended in the report - an approach that would give the NHS more opportunities to leverage the resource and leadership of multiple partner organisations. 

I look forward to continuing to partner with local stakeholders to support the delivery of care, particularly in relation to obesity. 

The report highlights some truly alarming facts about the country’s obesity challenge, but sadly the figures are unsurprising, and we do not have a moment to lose.

Importantly, we must act quickly and decisively to support those currently living with obesity, tackling the ‘here and now’ problems through widening access to treatment options such as bariatric surgery and the associated follow-up support.  This requires a change in the Government’s current approach, which is currently focused on preventative measures, and I fear risks letting down individuals that currently live with obesity.   

Joined up working will be vital, and it is important that the NHS makes use of specialist facilities in order to provide tailored solutions to those who need them. Our weight loss centre of excellence, Burcot Hall, is one such facility and we stand ready to partner with the NHS to support efforts to respond to the obesity challenge.

The independent sector is always going to be an agile and innovate force in the UK’s healthcare system, and it is evident that we must continue to work together, moving away from traditional public/private divisions, in order to successfully tackle the multi-faceted challenges of the post-pandemic environment.

Tony Veverka, CEO, Transform Hospital Group